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Extension Releases Toolkit to Get More Teens Eating School Breakfast

By Mary Schroeder, Extension Educator — Health and Nutrition

Ahead of the 2017–2018 school year, University of Minnesota Extension has released a toolkit to help school staff in Minnesota and across the nation implement a school breakfast program tailored to their school.

Breakfast is often considered the most important meal of the day, but many teenagers skip breakfast. When teens don’t eat until lunch time, their energy sags mid-morning and their ability to learn suffers. More and more middle schools and high schools are adding “Grab and Go” and “Second Chance” breakfasts to increase school breakfast participation.

A poster from the Project breakFAST Toolkit.

Extension Health and Nutrition staff developed the Project breakFAST Toolkit as part of a four year, multi-wave intervention study in 16 rural schools. Beginning in 2012, Project breakFAST: Fueling Academics and Strengthening Teens was led by the University of Minnesota Department of Family Medicine and Community Health (FMCH). The goal of Project breakFAST was to increase high school breakfast participation. Project staff worked with schools to identify and target barriers to participation in school breakfast programs: access, food appeal, and stigma.

Breaking Down Barriers

To address access to school breakfast, Extension Health and Nutrition educators trained staff at participating schools. They showed the foodservice team how to implement two kinds of breakfasts: Grab and Go and Second Chance (breakfast that is available after first period). Extension Health and Nutrition educators also worked with school staff on food appeal. They shared food items that were popular in other schools and encouraged foodservice teams to offer samples of breakfast foods.

To get students excited about eating breakfast, schools worked with Community Blueprint, a marketing firm that promotes behavior change. Together with students, schools developed breakfast marketing campaigns. Several schools developed breakfast videos. New London-Spicer High School did a spin-off of the Hunger Games (see Hunger is Eliminated with Breakfast at New London Spicer). And Bemidji High School created a video that involved every student in the school.

Bemidji promoted the video throughout the community and it has had over 14,000 views!

Project breakFAST Results

Project breakFAST made a positive impact on the rural teens in the intervention schools. Intervention schools increased participation in school breakfast by almost half, compared to the other schools. Participation among a cohort of 904 breakfast skippers increased by 81 percent more than the comparison group.

Project breakFAST also had an impact on the school nutrition services budget. Cost-benefit analysis showed daily profits ranging from $90 to $489 after recovering up-front and daily costs.

Next Steps

Because of the positive impact of Project breakFAST on both teens breakfast-eating habits and school nutrition services’ bottom lines, Extension and FMCH continue to collaborate. FMCH is leading the dissemination of the research study results. Extension led the revision of the Project breakFAST Toolkit and is publicizing and distributing it. The Project breakFAST Toolkit contains guidelines and templates for getting started with a school breakfast program, marketing and evaluation resources, and best practices from schools that have implemented successful Grab and Go and Second Chance breakfasts.

To read the Project breakFAST final report or to access the Project breakFAST Toolkit, visit the Project breakFAST website.

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