The Challenge is On to Increase School Breakfast Participation

Can a little friendly competition boost school breakfast participation in Massachusetts? The Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) and the New England Food & Dairy Council (NEFDC) think so, and have served up the Massachusetts School Breakfast Challenge.

SBClog bkfst challengeAccording to their website, increasing school breakfast participation is important because research shows “schools that implement breakfast programs see improvements in attendance, behavior, and test scores.” But among Massachusetts public school students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, nearly two thirds do not eat school breakfast, ranking our state 35th nationwide (source).

The Massachusetts School Breakfast challenge aims to help increase school breakfast participation by 35% from January 2013 to December 2014 in districts across the state. All districts with a school breakfast program are automatically enrolled, and schools will compete in one of two groups: districts with 39% or fewer students eligible for free/reduced lunch; and districts with 40% or more of students eligible for free/reduced lunch.

To help schools seeking to start up or expand their school breakfast program, Mass DESE and NEFDC – along with partners Mass SNA, Project Bread & the Mass Dept of Agriculture – are offering $75,000 in funding (up to $4,000 per school). The funding is available to help schools increase awareness of and access to nutrient-rich foods and physical activity opportunities for students. Act quickly – applications are due by December 20 2012!

To find out more, visit the Massachusetts School Breakfast Challenge website and read the FAQs.

JSI can also help you develop healthy and tasty ideas that encourage participation in your school’s breakfast program. In our six-hour Healthy Breakfast for Kids workshop, managers and school nutrition staff explore delicious and nutritious options to offer students to help them start their day and improve academic performance. The dates and locations for this workshop will be available on the JSI web site and in the JSI 2013 Spring brochure mailed to schools early January 2013.

Recent News Roundup: Successes in Massachusetts Schools with New Nutrition Standards

Massachusetts schools are now several months into a new year with updated school nutrition guidelines from both state and federal agencies. Our recent review of local news finds that many school districts are having success implementing the new guidelines in their school nutrition programs:

  • In Braintree, new vegetable- and legume-rich offerings have been added to school menus. Principals and school nutrition staff have followed up with taste-testings to promote participation and planned food-waste reviews to inform possible changes. A black-bean brownie was added to school menus to boost legume offerings. The Patch reports that although some new items – like a flourless black-bean brownie – were met initially with some skepticism from students and parents, many of the new foods have been successes.
  •  In Littleton, elementary schools are implementing the Fuel Up to Play 60 activity and nutrition program, and have applied for grants to fund after-school components. Wicked Local Littleton notes that the nutrition programming in Fuel Up to Play 60 supports the schools’ implementation of new school nutrition standards.
  • A recent Boston Globe article focuses on many challenges schools have faced in adapting to the new standards, but also cites successes. In Brookline public schools, for example, the food service director responded to students’ complaints of still being hungry after lunch by offering free seconds, which got an OK from USDA. JSI Director Karen McGrail, MEd, RD, LDN is also quoted about the need for persistence and motivation as staff and students get accustomed to the school food rules.

How has your school or district had success in adapting to the new standards this year? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Looking for more information on state or federal school nutrition regulations and standards? Check out the online resources on this topic in the JSI Resource Center!

Massachusetts Welcomes the Smarter Lunchroom Movement

The Smarter Lunchroom Movement is off and running with the first training group at FSU!

Nearly 50 participants representing over 20 Massachusetts school districts registered for the Smarter Lunchroom training on Nov. 29th held at FSU. Kate Hoy and Erin Sharp from the B.E.N. Center at Cornell University were the presenters.

JSI and the Smarter Lunchroom Initiative want to extend this recent training opportunity throughout Massachusetts. If you are interested in hosting a Smarter Lunchroom training in your school, please email JSI Director Karen McGrail to find out more!

If you attended the Smarter Lunchrooms session last month, let us know what ideas you took away and plan to implement at your school or district – please comment below!

Interested in more about ways to promote and market healthy eating? Go to, and also visit the JSI Resource Center’s “Promoting Your School Nutrition Program” page for links to more online resources!