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Assessing School Breakfast Potential

Analyze Your Current Program and Identify Strategies to Expand School Breakfast

Participation in the School Breakfast Program is important – primarily as a way to help meet the nutritional needs of students, but also to help schools receive maximum reimbursement and run a successful program. This section will help you build a School Breakfast expansion team, identify strengths and barriers to increasing participation, create an action plan to address program improvements, and incorporate marketing strategies to make school breakfast healthier and more appealing to students.

Step 1: Create a School Breakfast Expansion Team

Important changes generally occur when one person sees the need for change and is willing to take action. Most likely, you will find other individuals who are interested in expanding the School Breakfast Program to help more children get the nutrition they need during the school day. A good first step is to discuss your ideas about School Breakfast expansion with an existing health-focused team such as a school health committee or the district's local wellness committee.

If you aren't already part of a school health or wellness team, ask to take part in an upcoming meeting to share your ideas. If your state has a Nutrition Network coordinator, is that person part of the team? Approach teachers, school counselors and nurses, administrators, parents, students, and community members and leaders and ask them to get involved. If necessary, create a sub-committee of interested people to take on school breakfast expansion as their main focus.

Step 2: Assess Your Current Breakfast Program

Once you have a group dedicated to expanding school breakfast participation, you will want to examine how well the School Breakfast Program is working in your district or school. Before you move forward with an action plan, conduct a needs assessment by considering these factors:

  • Current Breakfast Participation Rates: What is current participation? Compare your participation rates for Breakfast and Lunch with total enrollment for each school. You may want to use data from your October claim for reimbursement to calculate your participation rates.
  • Student Demographics: Are there specific populations that are under-served? Which specific populations have high participation rates?

  • Possible Barriers: Determine what barriers might exist that keep students from participating in the breakfast program? What are some of the reasons breakfast participation does not reach its potential?

  • Strengths: What strengths does your school or district have that the school breakfast team can utilize? What aspects of your current school breakfast program work well? What individuals and groups are interested in promoting healthier school nutrition environments?

  • Team Members: Are there key stakeholders missing from the wellness committee or breakfast expansion team? This toolkit addresses this in depth in the Involving Key Stakeholders section.

    Overall Goals: Expanding breakfast participation is one strategy to help improve the overall health and academic performance of students. Are there other goals, such as improved behavior or visits to the school nurse, that you can measure?

  • Operating Costs: School districts face many challenges in serving healthy meals within tight financial constraints. The following resources will help you calculate the cost of operating your School Breakfast Program, and help you maximize the cost-effectiveness of the program.

Potential Funding/Resources: When school meal participation levels fall short of expectations, the school or district may need to support the program with funding sources other than Federal reimbursement or cash payments. Some organizations offer funding to help schools expand their breakfast programs. Take a look at for possible funding sources. Use the information collected in your assessment and outline your action plan and budget to submit as part of a grant application.

  • For example, the Western Dairy Council awards “Expanding School Breakfast Grants” to schools that need funds to expand their programs. Their grant application will give you an idea of what types of information funding sources may require.
Step 3: Develop an Action Plan/Expansion Strategy

Review the school's strengths and weaknesses and select areas for improvement. Use results from your needs assessment to create necessary changes in food, timing or method of service.

  • Decide which areas to tackle first, and which to do later.
  • Outline specific activities and realistic timeframes to achieve the desired improvements. Borrow ideas from other districts that have increased breakfast participation.
  • Assign responsibilities to specific team members.
  • Determine what materials and resources are needed to complete the activities.
  • Gain Support from key stakeholders
  • Set times for reviewing successes and resolving problems, and include a method for evaluating progress.
Step 4: Put the Plan Into Action

Get the activities under way. Enlist the team members' help to promote the School Breakfast Program and meet regularly to keep momentum going toward completing each objective. Monitor progress and adjust your timelines as necessary.

Step 5: Evaluate Your Plan

Review your progress—recognize your successes and resolve problems that arise. Your team may need to revise the plan as you go along to make sure you accomplish your goals.

Step 6: Share Your Success Story

Let other people in the community (including the media) know about your activities. Invite them to participate as often as possible. This will help you win support for your goals, gain recognition for your school, and encourage others to join the team. In the Marketing section you'll find resources such as public service announcements (PSAs), sample articles and media releases to generate interest in your project.

Page updated: September 26, 2023