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what goes on at school. We need our children to focus at school and we cannot be naïve and assume that kids are living in homes with stocked refrigerators.”

Detroit Public Schools: Mandatory K- 8 Classroom Breakfast

Detroit public schools serve an average of 36,713 breakfasts a day, or almost 85 percent of the low-income students that eat school lunch each day. This ranks them number two among the cities in this report. Betti Wiggins, nutrition program operations associate, reports that the key to their success is district-wide, K–8 implementation of breakfast in the classroom. This program was made possible through the leadership of the District’s Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, who mandated that all elementary and middle schools provide breakfast in the classroom in the 2009–2010 school year.

There are three different breakfast service models used in the school district. Some schools have the food service staff deliver individually bagged meals to the classroom on rolling carts. Other schools use a “grab and go” model, having the students pick up their meals themselves at the start of each day. The most popular program uses teacher-selected student “breakfast captains” who pick up the meals from the cafeteria and bring them back to the class.

It is up to the teachers to decide how to structure the morning meal. Some use the time to have an open dialogue about school or personal issues. Others see it as a chance to teach kids life skills, such as proper eating habits, manners, and responsibility. While some initially worried it would take away from instruction time, they now see it as a “teachable moment.”

Most importantly, breakfast in the classroom gives all students the opportunity to start their day off right. Regardless of their situation at home, all students are able to get the nutrition they need. “Hunger prevents many students from achieving their best,” says Janet Tisdale, Interim Executive Director of Detroit Public School Office of Food Service. “Even if a family is going through economic hardship, their children can still receive up to three meals a day in school.” Jean Daniel Ostertag, a teacher at the Foreign Language Immersion School, calls it a “leveling tool”. “I don’t want to have to think that half of my classroom is not working at the proper level just because breakfast was missed this morning.”

Dr. Carmen Wilson, principal of Osborn Upper School, values the effect breakfast in the classroom has on the rest of the school day. “We saw a tremendous increase in attendance, community, and academic performance,” she says. On average, 90 percent of Osborn’s student population eats breakfast at school each morning.


Large urban school districts need to do much more to reach children with school breakfast and reap the nutritional, health and educational benefits it brings. This report shows that school districts that offer breakfast in the classroom free to all students have the highest participation rates. The increased participation and resulting increased federal reimbursements, coupled with the economies of scale, and lower administrative costs, often help districts do this and break even or come out ahead financially. More districts and schools need to move to this model and experience its positive outcomes—higher attendance, lower absenteeism, reduced behavior problems, fewer visits to the school nurse, and higher student achievement.

Food Research and Action Center

School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities


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