Food and Nutrition Programs

School Breakfast Programs

What is the School Breakfast Program?

Some 7.5 million children in more than 89,000 schools start their day with the School Breakfast Program, a Federal program that provides States with cash assistance for non-profit breakfast programs in schools and residential child care institutions.

There are approximately 846 schools in 162 districts that are mandated to serve breakfast in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

What schools and institutions can participate?

Public schools or non-profit private schools of high school grade or under and residential child care institutions are eligible to participate in the School Breakfast Program. Participating schools and institutions must serve breakfasts that meet Federal nutrition standards and must provide free and reduced-price breakfasts to eligible children.

The School Breakfast Program Mandates, Chapter 346

The Breakfast Program Law, authorized by Chapter 346 of the Acts of 1986, requires schools meeting the following guidelines to make the Breakfast Program available to students.

"Schools which draw their attendance from areas with a high number of needy children, as defined by the Bureau of School Nutrition Services, shall be those which:

  • meet the requirements of "Severe Need Schools" which are defined as schools where 40 percent or more of the lunches served to students at the school in the second preceding year were served free or at a reduced prices; and
  • shall have on file a combined total of fifty or more free and reduced price meal applications as of October of the preceding school year."

There are approximately 649 schools in 100 districts that are mandated to serve breakfast in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Who may buy a meal? Who gets free or reduced-price breakfasts?

Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the School Breakfast Program. A child whose family meets income criteria may receive a free or reduced-price breakfast. The Federal government then reimburses the schools for each meal served that meets program nutritional requirements.

Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level (currently $30,615 for a family of four) are eligible for free meals. Those between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level (currently $43,568 for a family of four) are eligible for reduced-price meals. Children from families over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent.

How do schools get reimbursed for meals?

Schools submit a claim to their state agency for meals served. USDA reimburses the State, which in turn reimburses the local school food authority. For school year 2012-2013, the Federal government reimburses schools at the following rates can be found on our financial management page.

Schools may qualify for higher "severe-need" reimbursements if a specified percentage of their meals are served free or at a reduced price. Severe-need payments are 30 cents higher than the normal reimbursements for free and reduced-price breakfasts. Approximately 77 percent of the breakfasts served in School Breakfast Program receive the severe-need subsidy. Reimbursement payments for all meals are higher in Alaska and Hawaii.

Schools may charge no more than 30 cents for a reduced-price breakfast. Schools set their own prices for breakfasts served to students who pay the full meal price.

How many children participate? At what cost?

In FY 2000, a national average of 7.55 million children participated every day as compared to 7.37 million in FY 99. Of those, 6.4 million received their meals free or at a reduced price. For Fiscal Year 2011, the School Breakfast Program cost $3.0 billion, up from $1.9 billion in Fiscal Year 2005.

In Massachusetts for FY 12, a total of 26,166,851 total breakfasts were served to children, increased from 25,123,998 in FY 11.

School Breakfast Campaign


In 1992, the Massachusetts Legislature enacted he Massachusetts Childhood Hunger Relief Act in response to evidence that as many as 200,000 children in Massachusetts are affected by hunger.  The Community Childhood Hunger identification Project not only described the scope of this problem of hunger but also concluded that two federally funded nutrition programs, the School Breakfast Program and the Summer Food Service Program were vastly underutilized.  The Childhood Hunger Relief Act established an outreach program, the design of which will increase accessibility to and participation in the School Breakfast and Summer Food Service Programs for all children but especially low-income children.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has contracted with Project Bread, the leading statewide anti-hunger organization, to work with school districts to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program.Ultimately, however, this program's success depends upon the support and commitment of individual superintendents, principals, teachers, food service directors and parents.

Statement of Need

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education established a School Breakfast and Summer Food Service Outreach Campaign in 1993 and has continued to conduct outreach through FY 02. The campaign has included three major components: outreach community field work, Summer Food Service start-up grants, and advertising and promotion.

The results of this work are encouraging. Since outreach began in 1993, there has been a 53% increase in school breakfast served. Still only a small percentage of needy children in eligible communities participate in the Summer Food Service Program, and only 43% of children eligible for free or reduced price lunches eat school breakfast statewide. The need to make these programs accessible and attractive to children remains.

Massachusetts spent over $4.1 million dollars to support the School Breakfast and Summer Food Service Outreach Campaign for FY 2013.

If you have further questions on this initiative, please contact Robert M. Leshin at (781) 338-6477

Last Updated: June 29, 2020

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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