School Meals

Hawai‘i Appleseed is partnering with local schools to work to increase participation in the school breakfast program. Students who come to school hungry cannot focus, and children suffering from food insecurity are unable to grow to their full potential. Countless studies have shown that increasing breakfast participation improves academic and health outcomes for children. To address low breakfast participation rates--Hawai‘i ranks 47th out of the 50 states--Hawai‘i Appleseed is implementing pilot breakfast programs based on models that have been successful elsewhere in increasing breakfast participation.

hawaii breakfast after the bell infographic

The youngest students who must be accompanied by their parents have the highest tardiness rate, which indicates a need for schools and communities to provide better parental support and conduct extensive outreach to families to emphasize the importance of nutrition in a child's development. In response to these challenges, we seek to emphasize the link between a healthy breakfast and educational achievement, in addition to the myriad health benefits associated with a nutritious diet. Other problems include less nutritional foods from nearby convenience stores or food trucks competing for the child's attention.

Part of our effort includes working with community groups to conduct effective outreach to families from all backgrounds. We also are continuing a pro bono partnership with Goodsill Anderson, a prominent Honolulu law firm, for assistance with policy research.

The video below, produced by the Florida Dairy Council, describes the need and process of "breakfast after the bell" as Florida schools have implemented it.

If you experience difficulty viewing the video above, click here to view it on YouTube.

If you would like to apply for your child to receive free or reduced price school meals, click here. The link will bring you to Hawaii Department of Education website where you can apply online.


School meal programs are a critical way to improve our children’s health, and in particular to help low-income families make ends meet by serving a free or reduced price (F/RP) lunch and breakfast to their children. Offering affordable food lunch helps ensure that children receive at least one nutritious meal a day, with students ideally consuming school breakfast also as a second.

In 1946, Congress established the National School Lunch Program to ensure that children were properly nourished. This was followed by the School Breakfast Program, which was fully implemented in 1975. The US Department of Agriculture administers this program on the federal level, providing reimbursements for the meals served. To participate, a school must offer F/RP meals to low-income students, meet federal nutritional standards, and promote wellness policies. High participation rates are essential to fulfilling the government’s mission to promote children’s health, and schools should seek to maximize participation in the program.

One of the most important functions of the school meals program is to address issues in childhood hunger, nutrition, and health. An alarmingly high number of families struggle to consistently feed their children high-quality meals, an unsurprising problem given the very high cost of living in our state, and particularly the cost of food. In Hawaii, 15.3 percent of our families experience food insecurity, meaning that they do not always know how they will afford their next meal. An additional 3.9 percent are very low food secure families, meaning that they have had to reduce how much food they eat and have sometimes even experienced hunger.

Participation in the Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program

As the economy has faltered, Hawaii has seen its numbers of F/RP-qualifying children rise. Children with family incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level receive free meals, and an income between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level qualifies a student for a reduced price meal. Today, 47 percent of Hawaii’s public school children qualify for free and reduced price lunch, an increase of 20 percent since 2007. In our state, a reduced price breakfast is $0.30, while a lunch costs $0.40. These more affordable meals help alleviate the financial pressures on low-income families.

Participation rates in the school lunch program are fairly high. On average, the school lunch program serves 106,000 students a day while 35,884 students participate in Hawaii’s school breakfast program. However, there is a significant disparity between the number of free and reduced price qualifying children who eat lunch and who eat breakfast. Of those eating school breakfast, almost 70 percent qualify for free and reduced price meals; however, the free and reduced price participation rate in breakfast is relatively low. Only 39.3 percent of students eating free and reduced price lunch eat breakfast at school, ranking Hawaii 44th among the states in the 2010-2011 school year. The participation rate actually dropped from 42.5 percent in 2009-2010, despite an increase in F/RP lunch consumption. If Hawaii upped F/RP breakfast participation to 60 percent of the lunch participation level, the state would bring in an additional $2,364,240 in federal funds.

Here is a map produced by Food Research and Action Center comparing breakfast participation rates across the country. Click here to see more on this interactive map.

FRAC's map of breakfast participation across US

The Importance of School Breakfast

Many families live on tight budgets or have significant time constraints that make it challenging to consistently serve a nutritious breakfast. Missing breakfast means much more than just missing a meal. Students who eat school breakfast have better nutrition, eating more fruits and consuming a wider variety of foods, and are less likely to be overweight. In addition to the nutritional and health benefits of breakfast, there are significant academic benefits. School breakfast has been shown to improve standardized test scores, attendance, and classroom behavior compared to children who don’t eat breakfast or eat at home.

One method to increase breakfast participation is by serving breakfast in the classroom to all children. Serving breakfast to all children in the classroom, particularly in schools with high F/RP populations, means that no student has to start the day hungry. Universal breakfast can streamline labor and the serving process while also removing the stigma that may be associated with eating F/RP school breakfast. Students can spend more time with teachers, who can begin the academic day with instructional time or other classroom activities like taking attendance.

Hawaii Appleseed’s Goals

We are currently researching methods to maximize participation in the school meal program, particularly by instituting breakfast in the classroom. Our partnerships with the three schools and the pro bono partnership with Goodsill Anderson will greatly assist our efforts in pursuing this goal. Hawaii Appleseed is also investigating other ways to maximize participation in the school lunch program, such as parental, school, and community outreach, as well as ways to integrate local agriculture and school gardens in the meal program.

Further Information

Start the School Day Ready to Learn with Breakfast in the Classroom: Principals Share What Works, report by Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), November 2013

New Mexico Appleseed:

Food Research and Action Center, School Breakfast and Lunch Program

USDA Food and Nutrition Service, School Meals

No Kid Hungry:
Ending Childhood Hunger

Positive Media Youtube video of
Hawaii Farm to School

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