School Breakfast Program

Founded by the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, the School Breakfast Program (SBP), like the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), provides nutritious meals to students at participating schools (and to children in residential child care institutions). Eligible students receive free or reduced-price breakfasts.

The number of schools participating in the SBP increased dramatically in the early 1990s, growing by nearly 9 percent annually between fiscal 1989 and fiscal 1995. Since then, the number of participating schools has continued to increase, although participation still lags that of the NSLP, with over 100,000 schools and residential child care institutions participating. In 2016, 87,568 schools participated in the SBP, compared with 86,866 in 2015. More than 3,000 residential child care institutions also participated.

Student participation in the SBP has also grown. In fiscal 1989, 3.8 million students participated in the program on a given school day, and a total of 658 million breakfasts were served. In fiscal 2016, 14.6 million students participated in the program daily, up from 14.0 million in the previous year. Most participants have high need; of the more than 2.4 billion breakfasts served, 79 percent were free and another 6 percent were provided at reduced price. Spending for the program totaled $4.2 billion in 2016, 8 percent more than in the previous year.

An ERS-sponsored study found that elementary school-age students are more likely to participate in the SBP when they come from lower income or time-constrained households (see The School Breakfast Program: Participation and Impacts). Children with access to the SBP are more likely to eat breakfast in the morning. Program access may enhance food security among families at the margin of food insecurity.

Another ERS-sponsored study found that by increasing the likelihood that children would eat breakfast, SBP was associated with children having a lower Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of weight status (see School Meal Program Participation and Its Association with Dietary Patterns and Childhood Obesity).

ERS research projects related to the SBP have studied the feasibility of measuring the effect of school breakfasts on learning (see Designs for Measuring How the School Breakfast Program Affects Learning, in the link below). ERS has also investigated factors associated with a school's ability to serve healthy, appealing breakfasts within its cost constraints (see Economies of Scale, the Lunch-Breakfast Ratio, and the Cost of USDA School Breakfasts and Lunches, in the link below):