The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

School Breakfast in Massachusetts

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
October 13, 2017

Massachusetts has experienced sustained student participation growth in school breakfast over the past five years. The annual participation increases, especially in high need schools, are due to a variety of factors including changes in federal regulations. More importantly, the hard work of local school staff implementing successful breakfast programs and school breakfast allied organizations promoting the importance of a healthy start to the school day have contributed to our recent success.

School YearTotal Statewide School Breakfasts Served1
7 percent average annual increase

Our recent accomplishments have garnered national attention. In February 2017, the Food Research Action Council's (FRAC) 2015-2016 School Breakfast Scorecard report ranked Massachusetts second for growth in school breakfast participation among high need students. We are one of only four states that had double-digit growth, and this is the third year in a row that Massachusetts has been among the top 10 states in terms of growth in participation.2

While the recent participation success is very encouraging, Massachusetts continues to lag behind other states in terms of overall school breakfast participation and many more students, especially high need, could be participating in school breakfast programs. On an average day only approximately half of the high need students who participate in school lunch also participate in school breakfast. Massachusetts is slightly below the national average for high need student participation in both lunch and breakfast (56 percent).3 There are many opportunities to not only increase student participation in school breakfast in Massachusetts, but also increase awareness of the importance of school breakfast in general.

Importance of School Breakfast

A healthy breakfast helps to ensure that students are ready to learn. Many students skip breakfast at home either because there is no time or they are not hungry early in the morning. For many, the reason for not eating breakfast is that they do not have the means to do so. The school breakfast program is not only designed to combat child hunger; it is also designed to teach healthy eating habits, reduce child obesity rates, and improve student achievement. Studies have shown that children who eat a nutritious breakfast to start their day learn, behave, and perform better in class than children who do not eat breakfast.4

The benefits of healthy, nourished students go beyond the students themselves. Schools have reported that with a successful school breakfast program, attendance improves, tardiness decreases, discipline issues go down, and the school nurse spends less time treating students who are healthy, but hungry. This benefits students, parents, schools and school districts as a whole.

Federal and State Statutory Requirements

The National School Breakfast Program (SBP) is a federally funded nutrition program that provides reimbursement to schools serving breakfasts that meet strict federal guidelines. The program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered by the Office for Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Participating schools must comply with federal nutrition, benefit issuance, and meal counting and claiming standards and make breakfast available to all students. The Department's Office for Food and Nutrition Programs provides federal reimbursements, training and technical assistance and conducts administrative reviews for all school districts participating in the program to ensure compliance with federal and state regulations.

On the state level, Mass. General Law Chapter 69, Section 1C outlines a state mandate authorized in 1986 requiring certain high need schools to offer breakfast as well as a universal breakfast program for high need elementary schools. Schools that served 40 percent or more lunches to free or reduced price eligible students two years prior are mandated to offer breakfast. Additional state reimbursement is given to these mandated schools for offering breakfast.

Elementary schools that are mandated to serve breakfast and in which 60 percent or more of the students were eligible for free or reduced price meals the previous year can apply to receive additional state breakfast reimbursement (in addition to breakfast mandate reimbursement) for offering breakfast at no cost to all students and during regular school hours. The Department's Office for Food and Nutrition Programs ensures compliance and distributes the state funding to both mandated schools and schools electing to implement universal breakfast during regular school hours.

School Breakfast Models

There are many ways to offer school breakfast. The model that works best for a school will depend on a variety of reasons including school layout, the availability of cafeteria space and staff, the school's start time, bus schedule, and most importantly the willingness of school district administration and school staff to support school breakfast.

The majority of schools in Massachusetts and nationwide that offer breakfast offer it in the cafeteria, typically before classes start (i.e., "before the bell"). Data supports that school breakfast participation is higher when breakfast is taken out of the cafeteria before classes start and instead made a part of the school day (i.e., "after the bell"). The types of school breakfast models used for breakfast service after the bell and during the school day are known as alternative breakfast models. In Massachusetts, schools have reported the use of alternative breakfast models both before and after the bell. In February 2015, to encourage breakfast in the classroom, Commissioner Mitchell Chester issued new policy guidance allowing breakfast to count towards required student learning time as long as breakfast is served in the classroom, during instructional activities, and does not exceed 15 minutes. A good portion of schools operating breakfast in the classroom are elementary schools implementing universal breakfast and receiving additional state funding.

There are 657 schools in Massachusetts with a student population 60 percent or more free and/or reduced price eligible. Of these 657 schools, 363 reported using an alternative breakfast model either before or after the bell.

Of the 363 using an alternative breakfast model either before or after the bell:

Types of Alternative Breakfast Models

Three types of alternative breakfast models are used in Massachusetts schools.

Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC)

School nutrition staff pack breakfasts into coolers or insulated bags that are transported to each classroom by school nutrition staff, designated students, or volunteers. Students eat during the first 10-15 minutes of class during morning announcements or while the teacher takes attendance or reviews lessons.

Grab and Go

School nutrition staff pack breakfast meals in bags to be picked up from the cafeteria or kiosks in the hallway on the way to class. Students pick up breakfast meals as they arrive at school and eat on the way to class or eat at their desks after the bell during the first 10-15 minutes of class.

Second Chance

Depending on the model used, students can eat in the cafeteria, similar to traditional breakfast, or take a bagged meal to be eaten between classes or during the first period. Students eat after the first period, during a morning nutrition break, either in the cafeteria or between classes.6

Breakfast Service ModelNumber of MA Schools7Percentage Breakfast Schools Statewide
Breakfast in the Classroom37220 percent
Grab and Go33918 percent
Second Chance442 percent
Cafeteria132369 percent
Other1639 percent

Implementing alternative breakfast models does require some startup costs such as equipment purchases. However, increased student participation can increase the federal dollars available to cover costs. Several allied school breakfast organizations offer grants to support the expansion of alternative breakfast models. The New England Dairy and Food Council locally administers the National Football League's (NFL) "Fuel Up to Play 60" grants which provide funding opportunities to help implement alternative breakfast models and the Eos Foundation provides grants specifically for schools implementing breakfast in the classroom after the bell.

Community Eligibility Provision and School Breakfast

The largest school breakfast increases in Massachusetts have taken place at high need schools. The majority of these schools offer free, universal breakfast. Most of these schools not only offer breakfast at no charge, but also lunch, and they participate in the federal Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which was a cornerstone of the federal Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Eligible schools, groups of schools, or whole districts are eligible for CEP based on the percentage of enrolled students directly certified or categorically eligible for free school meals. CEP reduces administrative paperwork for schools, removes the stigma of the school breakfast program, maximizes federal reimbursements, and makes it easier to implement alternative breakfast models.

As of October 2017, 82 districts and 519 schools across Massachusetts are CEP schools where high need students have access to free lunch and breakfast. Not charging for breakfast makes it easier for schools to operate efficient Breakfast in the Classroom or Grab and Go breakfast models because meal counting and claiming methods are simplified. For this reason alone, the majority of schools that deploy alternative breakfast models are located in CEP schools.

School Breakfast Going Forward

The Department's Office for Food and Nutrition Programs continues to work closely with our longtime breakfast outreach partner, the Child Nutrition Outreach Program at Project Bread, as well as other allied partners as a part of the Massachusetts School Breakfast Challenge, a consolidated effort to help school districts boost their school breakfast awareness, quality, and participation. Ultimately, the success of this program depends upon the commitment of superintendents, principals, teachers, school food service staff, and parents. The Department is committed to continuing to support their efforts.