Breakfast is important, so why do so many students not take advantage of free meals at school?

Mar 20, 2017

Numerous studies have shown that starting the day with breakfast has a positive influence for students.

The federal government funds a program that allows income-eligible students to eat that first meal of the day at school, but less than one third of those who qualify for the program in New York state take advantage of it.

"There's absolutely a stigma, especially as kids get older, around accessing school meals," said Jessica Pino-Goodspeed, who authored a report for the statewide nonprofit Hunger Solutions New York.

The report said that in the 2015-2016 school year, only 54 percent of eligible students in the Syracuse City School District participated in the breakfast program. That same year, only 31 percent of eligible students in the Oswego City School District participated. 

Pino-Goodspeed said this is a lost opportunity, given the mounting evidence that eating breakfast leads to better classroom participation by students.

"But it's also had an impact on improving standardized test scores; also improving levels of concentration, alertness, attention and memory. Schools have even seen lower instances of tardiness and fewer behavioral issues."

She said some school districts get better participation in the program by doing two things: allowing all students to eat the meals, not only those who meet income requirements; and by offering breakfast in the classroom, rather than requiring students to arrive at school early to eat breakfast in the cafeteria.

"Making sure that morning meal is more accessible rather than depending on kids getting to school early rather and choose breakfast time over socializing with friends, or getting homework done, or things like that."

The report said low breakfast participation in New York caused the state to forfeit more than $71 million in federal reimbursements in the 2015-16 school year alone.