Millions of Children are Eligible For School Breakfast, But They’re Not Getting It

By United Way of King County, on March 1, 2019 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

It started as a program run by the Black Panther Party—but the government shut it down as retaliation against the party. Now, at the end of Black History Month, schools are gearing up for an entire week of spotlighting school breakfast.

And that spotlight is vital: The need for school breakfast highlights racial inequities in the fight for access to healthy food. Studies show that the need for school meals is great—21.8 million students eat free- or reduced-price lunch—but only 12.5 million eat school breakfast. Many children missing out on school breakfast are low-income, immigrant students and students of color.

So, National School Breakfast Week means a week of outreach, including info for families, hosting school events (breakfast with fire fighters, anyone?) and fun promotions during school breakfast to increase participation. The School Breakfast Program is the nation’s second-largest federal meal program, but there is room to grow.

Why does that matter?

Because hunger inhibits growth. Because starting the day hungry inhibits learning. Washington ranks a measly 44th in school breakfast participation. On average, 166,162 students in our state eat school breakfast daily. Given the number of kids enrolled in free/reduced-price meals, that total should be closer to 350,000 students. Imagine if all those children were getting the nutrition they needed!

Our Fuel Your Future program has expanded meal programs across King County, with more than 1,000 students eating school breakfast and supper daily.

Next week, our AmeriCorps team will help facilitate nutritious fun countywide. At Concord Elementary, for example, students will taste test new breakfast items, name their cafeteria, and receive prizes just for eating breakfast!

The Fuel Your Future program connects kids to federal meal programs by removing barriers. Our school breakfast work provides resources and technical assistance to schools implementing Breakfast After The Bell, a nationally recognized service model for increasing school breakfast participation. Breakfast After the Bell means millions of federal dollars that would otherwise sit unclaimed now fight hunger!

Our 2018 Breakfast Challenge alum schools have recommitted to prioritizing school breakfast. Schools across Washington State impacted by HB 1508, the Washington Kids Ready to Learn Act are planning and implementing Breakfast After the Bell to increase participation in school breakfast.

A 2015 national poll of child nutrition staff showed that 96% of schools that celebrated National School Breakfast Week increased participation, so next week is a chance to do a lot of good!


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