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School Breakfast Program FAQs

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1. What is the School Breakfast Program?
The School Breakfast Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It began as a pilot project in 1966, and was made permanent in 1975. The School Breakfast Program is administered at the federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service. At the state level, the program is usually administered by state education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with local school food authorities in more than 78,000 schools and institutions.

2. How does the School Breakfast Program work?
The School Breakfast Program operates in the same manner as the National School Lunch Program. Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the School Breakfast Program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the breakfast program receive cash subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve breakfasts that meet federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price breakfasts to eligible children.

3. What are the nutritional requirements for school breakfasts?
School breakfasts must meet the applicable recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and are designed to ensure that students enter the classroom well-nourished and ready to learn. The meal pattern for breakfast includes fruits (or vegetables), whole grain-rich foods and/or meats/meat alternates, and milk. Breakfasts are also limited in sodium, calories, saturated fats, and trans fats. The decisions about what specific food to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities. Additional information on the nutritional requirements for the School Breakfast Program is available here.

4. How do children qualify for free and reduced price breakfasts?
Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the School Breakfast Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. Children from families over 185 percent of poverty pay full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent.

5. How much reimbursement do schools get?
Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the School Breakfast Program comes in the form of a cash reimbursement for each breakfast served. The current basic cash reimbursement rates are available here.

Schools may qualify for higher "severe need" reimbursements if a specified percentage of their lunches are served free or at a reduced price. Severe need payments are up to 23 cents higher than the normal reimbursements for free and reduced-price breakfasts. Higher reimbursement rates are in effect for Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Schools may charge no more than 30 cents for a reduced-price breakfast. Schools set their own prices for breakfasts served to students who pay the full meal price (paid), though they must operate their meal services as non-profit programs.

6. What other support do schools get from USDA?
through Team Nutrition, USDA provides schools with technical training and assistance to help school food service staffs prepare healthy meals, and with nutrition education to help children understand the link between diet and health.

7. How many children have been served over the years?
In fiscal year 2001, an average of 7.8 million children participated every day. That number grew to 8.2 million in fiscal year 2002. Of those, 6.7 million received their meals free or at a reduced-price. Participation has slowly but steadily grown over the years: 1970: 0.5 million children; 1975: 1.8 million children; 1980: 3.6 million children; 1985: 3.4 million children; 1990: 4.1 million children; 1995: 6.3 million children.

8. How much does the program cost?
For fiscal year 2003, Congress appropriated $1.68 billion for the School Breakfast Program, up from $1.54 billion in fiscal year 2002. The cost in previous years: 1970: cost of $ 10.8 million: 1975: cost of $ 86.1 million; 1980: cost of $287.8 million; 1985: cost of $379.3 million; 1990: cost of $ 596.2 million; 1995: cost of $1.05 billion.

For more information:

For information on the operation of the School Breakfast Program and all the Child Nutrition Programs, contact the state agency in your state that is responsible for the administration of the programs. You may also contact us by mail at Braddock Metro Center II, 1320 Braddock Place, Alexandria, VA 22314.

Page updated: June 11, 2024