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Food Research and Action Center

School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities

January 2011

Executive Summary

This report examines the performance of school breakfast programs in 29 large urban school districts during the 2009–2010 school year, with the goal of monitoring their progress in increasing school breakfast participation among low-income students.

Given the concentration of poverty within the student population, it is somewhat easier to reach children with breakfast in large urban areas than elsewhere. This is borne out by the finding that 16 of the 29 districts performed above the national average in reaching low-income students with breakfast. But more than half failed to reach a majority of their low-income students with the important morning nourishment they need to succeed in school, and only two districts met FRAC’s goal of reaching at least 70 low-income children with breakfast through the School Breakfast Program for every 100 low-income children who received lunch through the National School Lunch Program.

Key Findings:

  • The top five school districts—Newark (NJ), Detroit, Boston, Columbus (OH), and Pittsburgh— served breakfast to over 60 percent of the low-income students that received school lunch. Only Newark and Detroit achieved the goal of reaching at least 70 low-income children with breakfast for every 100 receiving lunch. If all 29 districts had reached this goal in the 2009–2010 school year, 595,649 additional children would have been eating a healthy school breakfast every day, and the districts combined would have collected an additional $151 million in federal child nutrition funding.

  • The districts serving breakfast in the classroom have the highest participation rates. The two top-performing districts feature programs in which all students are offered breakfast at no charge and eat in the classroom at the beginning of the school day. Of the top ten school districts, all provide universal free breakfast throughout their district, and all but two have large-scale in-classroom breakfast programs.

  • Chicago Public Schools increased the participation rate of low-income students the most dramatically over the past year by implementing an effective model of breakfast in the classroom in over half of its elementary schools.

  • There is increased momentum for the adoption of universal classroom breakfast programs in large urban school districts. This is the key strategy for rapid expansion of school breakfast programs in large urban school districts.

  • The districts are taking steps to improve the quality of school breakfast. Twenty-eight of the 29 districts in this study recently have taken one or more actions to improve the quality of their breakfast meals. Twenty-six have reduced the sugar content of their offerings. Twenty-three have increased the percentage of whole grains used in the meals. Twenty have removed trans fat from all menu items.

  • Twenty-seven of the 29 districts are participating in a healthy eating/wellness initiative such as the Healthier US School Challenge or Fuel Up to Play 60.

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