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School Breakfast Participation Growing

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About 51.9 percent of children from low-income homes who participated in school lunch programs in the 2012-2013 school year also ate school breakfasts, a new report finds. 

That's an increase from the 2011-2012 school year, when about 50.4 percent of low-income lunch eaters also ate breakfast, according to the report released Wednesday by the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based anti-hunger organization that advocates for federal nutrition programs. In 2012-2013, 10.8 million low-income children participated in school breakfast on an average day, an increase of nearly 311,000 from the previous school year, the report says:

"For millions of low-income children across the country, the School Breakfast Program provides the opportunity to start the school day with a healthy meal, the health and educational benefits of which cannot be overstated. Children who eat breakfast at school start the day ready to learn--reflected in higher test scores and better classroom behavior--and have improved dietary intakes and reduced levels of food insecurity. In the 2012-2013 school year, participation in the School Breakfast Program continued to grow both in the number of low-income children participating in breakfast and the share of low-income children participating in school breakfast compared to those participating in school lunch. Since the recession, participation in the school meals programs has steadily increased, however, the pace of growth has been greater in the School Breakfast Program; the result of extensive efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, school districts, and advocates."

Researchers attributed increases in school breakfast participation to initiatives like offering breakfast in the classroom after the school day has started and the use by seven states of the federal Community  Eligibility Provision, which allows participating schools to serve all their students free breakfasts and lunches without individually identifying children as eligible. Using a mathematical formula, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses school food authorities approximately the same amount as they would have received under the existing system, but without the paperwork. Advocates say the streamlined process eliminates a barrier for participation in the free federal meal programs.

The Community Eligibility Provision has been rolled out gradually, and it will be available nationwide in the 2014-2015 school year, presenting the opportunity for more schools to increase meal program participation, the report's authors wrote.

 The report also highlighted "grab and go" breakfast options and options that give students a second chance to eat breakfast after first period if they regret skipping it.



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