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 years (FY) 1989 and 1995. In recent years, however, growth appears to have leveled off; since FY 2017, approximately 88,000 schools and 3,000 residential child care institutions have participated.

As SBP availability increased, student participation also grew but has recently started to level off. In FY 1989, 3.8 million students participated in the program on a given school day, and a total of 658 million breakfasts were served. In FY 2019, 14.7 million students participated, virtually unchanged from the previous year. Most participants have high need; of the more than 2.4 billion breakfasts served, 80 percent were free and another 5 percent were provided at reduced price. Spending for the program totaled $4.5 billion in FY 2019, 3 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 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