Father and son eat breakfast“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Parents have been telling kids that for ages. Then kids grow up, become parents, and tell it to their own children, who grow up . . . the message keeps getting repeated because it’s true. A new study is re-igniting the breakfast conversation and it comes with scientific evidence that when breakfast quality improves, kids’ grades do, too.

David Frisvold led the study of the effect of the federal government’s School Breakfast Program (SBP) on children’s grades. Frisvold is an assistant professor of economics at the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa.

The SBP program, governed by the US Department of Agriculture and managed at the state level, has been providing free or low-cost healthy breakfasts every school day to children from low-income families since 1966. A school district is required to offer the program if a percentage of its student body surpasses household income eligibility limits.

The Frisvold study evaluated academic performance on two groups of elementary students:

  • One group of students attended schools that fell just below the threshold of eligibility for the SBP program; these school districts were not required to offer free breakfasts to students.
  • The other group fell just above the eligibility threshold, making it mandatory to offer the SBP breakfasts to eligible students.

The Frisvold study identified significantly improved academic performance in the schools where free breakfast was offered. Math scores for students getting SBP meals were approximately 25% higher than anticipated and their math scores remained high throughout a child’s time in elementary school. Grades for science and reading were also higher than anticipated throughout elementary school years.

According to Frisvold, his study reinforces the value of eating a healthy breakfast for immediate academic performance and he feels the higher grades better prepare the student for higher levels of achievement throughout life.

A healthy breakfast is important for academic performance for all students of every household income bracket and at every age. Multiple studies have documented better grades for students who regularly consume a healthy breakfast but social skills and behaviors are improved, too. A healthy breakfast helps a child maintain a healthy BMI even if one or both parents is obese.

As more school districts are accepting the link between healthy breakfasts and improved grades, many of them are adopting breakfast-in-the-classroom policies which set aside time in the first class period of the day for all children to eat breakfast in the classroom. Many students eligible for the SBP program do not take advantage of it due to the stigma of poverty, buses or rides to school don’t get the child to school in time to eat in the cafeteria before classes begin, or various other reasons.

Regardless of family socioeconomic status, a healthy breakfast is important for all children. Healthy breakfasts are rich in fiber, protein, and whole grains and have little or no added sugar or fat.


  1. Snee, Tom. "Better breakfast, better grades." Iowa Now. The University of Iowa, 12 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
  2. "Hunger In Our Schools: Breakfast Is A Crucial “School Supply” For Kids In Need." Let's Move! www.letsmove.gov, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.
  3. "Ready, Set, Breakfast!" KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2015.