The School Breakfast Program was established in 1966 as a two-year pilot project designed to provide categorical grants to assist schools serving breakfasts to "nutritionally needy" children. While the term "nutritionally needy" was not defined, the original legislation stipulated that first consideration for program implementation was to be given to schools located in poor areas or in areas where children had to travel a great distance to school. To encourage schools in needy areas to participate, Congress authorized higher federal payments for schools determined to be in "severe need." During the first year of operation, the SBP served about 80,000 children at a federal cost of $573,000.
During the next few years, the pilot program was extended several times, and a number of modifications were made to expand the program. In 1971, Congress directed that priority consideration for the program would include schools in which there was a special need to improve the nutrition and dietary practices of children of working mothers and children from low-income families. Even more important, in 1973, the categorical grant reimbursement structure was replaced by a system of specific per-meal reimbursement.
In 1975 the program received permanent authorization. As part of the legislation making the SBP permanent, Congress declared its intent that the program "be made available in all schools where it is needed to provide adequate nutrition for children in attendance." Moreover, the legislation continued to emphasize participation by schools in severe need and to provide higher reimbursement to these schools.