How CPS Uses Alternative Breakfast Models

March 03, 2020

It’s National School Breakfast Week! We wrote earlier about how alternative breakfast models helped boost participation in school breakfast nationwide, but we also want to highlight how Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is harnessing these alternative breakfast models to reach more students.

Breakfast is an important part of the school meal program. It has a strong link to educational outcomes—even more so than other meals—because of the way the brain responds to food after the short fast during sleep. Alternative breakfast models, like breakfast in the classroom and grab and go breakfast, help increase participation because they remove stigma and the need to arrive at school early to eat breakfast. Breakfast in the classroom serves breakfast at the beginning of the school day often while the teacher is doing things like taking attendance, and grab and go breakfast allows students to take breakfast to the classroom.

CPS has been a leader in offering alternative models to its students. Most CPS schools implement breakfast in the classroom and grab and go breakfast. Of the 585 CPS schools, 54 served breakfast in the cafeteria before school, 545 served breakfast in the classroom and 448 served grab and go, according to FRAC’s report School Breakfast: Making it Work in Large School Districts. (Some schools offer more than one model to reach the most students.)

During the 2018-2019 school year, 60.6 percent of CPS students ate breakfast at schools, up slightly from 57.9 percent from the previous school year, according to the FRAC report. While the year-over-year progress in CPS isn’t that large, only 34 percent of students were participating in breakfast during the 2012-2013 school year. All CPS students can eat breakfast free of charge.

Increasing breakfast participation, especially at the high school level, has been a priority for the district. Last year, for the first time, Cooking up Change students in Chicago created grab and go breakfasts. The winning breakfast, a Spicy Egg Burrito & Fresh Banana from Prosser Career Academy, was served across the district.

The meal was so popular, it actually prompted CPS to look for a new refrigerated scrambled egg product that can be easily prepared by staff. The new product has been available to students this school year.

Healthy Schools Campaign has long been a supporter of alternative breakfast models. With the help of parent leaders involved our Parents United for Healthy Schools, CPS began piloting breakfast in the classroom in the fall of 2007 at McAuliffe Elementary school on the city’s northwest side. The pilot saw immediate results. Participation in the program increased 250 percent, and student test scores improved more than nine percent. McAuliffe’s teachers also reported fewer discipline problems and increased student alertness. The success of this pilot led to CPS adopting universal breakfast in the classroom and the state of Illinois adopting breakfast after the bell.

We’re excited to see breakfast participation at the district holding strong and look forward to helping the district expand and strengthen its alternative breakfast models.