Studies show the most important meal of the day can help students stay healthier and perform better in school.
St. Louis-based hunger relief nonprofit Operation Food Search recently launched its Missouri School Breakfast website – moschoolbreakfast.org – to provide extensive resources and detailed reports regarding breakfast participation trends and how they affect students both locally and statewide.
The new website, created to raise awareness regarding the importance of breakfast, features interactive tools for school district administration and staff, all with a goal of implementing successful breakfast programs at every Missouri school that offers free and reduced-price meals.
“A nutritious school breakfast can have a dramatic impact on the health of students and the success of our schools,” says Sarah Ritter, OFS’s manager of public policy, who spearheads the website. “According to research, when students eat breakfast at school, they perform better on tests, achieve stronger attendance records and visit the school nurse less often. Unfortunately, too many students in Missouri continue to miss out on the opportunity to eat breakfast at school due to barriers such as timing and stigma.”
Schools can use the site’s interactive map, which includes statistics for 575 school districts composed of 2,198 schools, to view how breakfast participation at an individual school has changed over time, Ritter explains. The map shows data from the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years, with 2019-20 school year data coming this August. “Schools can use the map to identify opportunities to serve more students through the school breakfast program,” Ritter says. “The site also provides research and resources on best practices schools can employ in order to reach more students.”
OFS developed the site with support from the Washington, D.C.-based Food Research & Action Center. Moreover, the Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis completed a multiyear research process that generated relevant breakfast data based on information from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Despite increased participation – school breakfast program participation rose 1.1 percent in the 2018-19 school year compared to the previous year – only half of all possible free or reduced-price breakfasts were served. Research shows the schools that implemented strategies like the school breakfast program Breakfast After the Bell were almost twice as likely to have high breakfast participation.
Additionally, fewer school breakfasts are served than lunches statewide. On average, approximately 62 free and reduced-price breakfasts are served for every 100 free and reduced-price lunches; also, about 32 percent of Missouri schools are reaching the national benchmark of serving 70 free and reduced-price breakfasts for every 100 free and reduced-price lunches.
With help from the website, OFS hopes to change that. “The website serves as a resource to assist schools interested in strengthening their school breakfast programs,” Ritter explains. “It provides information about evidence-based best practices that reduce barriers and increase breakfast participation, such as Breakfast After the Bell. Since schools are reimbursed for each breakfast served, an increase in breakfast participation translates into additional dollars for the school each year. It’s a win-win for both students and schools.”