Maximizing School Meals

The USDA School Meal Program can be the key to a student’s success in the classroom, especially for students who don’t have access to nutritious foods at home. There are programs which can help fill the gap by making meals more accessible to more students throughout the school building.

Teens seated at a cafeteria table, enjoying lunch.

Less than half the number of students who eat school lunches also eat breakfast at school. In 2017, 9.5 million students who were eligible for free or reduced-priced meals did not participate in the School Breakfast Program. According to the School Nutrition Association’s Little Big Book (2017), “By failing to be more aggressive and innovative in boosting breakfast participation, district and states are leaving millions of federal dollars untapped that could be used to feed low-income children.’’ The school meal gap raises opportunities to increase student participation and for schools to receive federal dollars to feed hungry students.

Kids participating in a Fuel Up to Play 60 event.

It’s been shown that when schools move breakfast out of the cafeteria and serve it after the first bell, participation increases. For example, USDA alternate breakfast programs including Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab ’n’ Go Breakfast and Second Chance Breakfast give students easier access to the meal. Often students are dropped off with minutes to spare before the bell rings. Having the flexibility to eat in the classroom or buy their meal from a kiosk or cart and take it with them alleviates the time crunch.

Midwest Dairy supports programs aimed to improve the health of children in schools with dairy and nutrition education. Our programs emphasize how healthy school meals can improve academic performance. There are numerous ways that schools can integrate breakfast into the school day to increase meal participation. Both the School Nutrition Association and Food Research and Action Center provide resources to support these efforts.


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Fuel Up to Play 60

Get involved with this in-school wellness program to explore Breakfast in the Classroom.

The Value of School Meals

School meals can have a major impact in the nation’s schools as well as in the lives of families and communities. They nourish millions of students daily, helping them get the nutrients they need for growth and development.

Keep it Cool Toolkit

Kids like cold milk. In this toolkit, find tips for storing milk at the proper temperature as well as signage or cling templates to display on your milk coolers.