Hunger Free Vermont: Schools increase breakfast participation

BRATTLEBORO — For the second round of the Vermont Breakfast After the Bell Challenge, 10 schools increased breakfast participation by more than 20 percent.

For the challenge, participating schools are encouraged to move breakfast service after the morning bell, making breakfast part of the school day. In order to be recognized as champions, a school needs to increase their breakfast participation by a minimum of 20 percent. The challenge was created and is overseen by New England Dairy & Food Council and Hunger Free Vermont.

Three local schools, Green Street in Brattleboro, Flood Brook in Londonderry and Guilford Elementary were among the winners in round two of the challenge.

The top winner was Missisquoi Valley Union Middle/High School, having after one year witnessed a 642 percent increase in breakfast participation. MVU offers universal, free breakfast in the classroom to all students. A reward event will take place at MVU on Monday, March 20.

Even if schools already serve breakfast in the cafeteria and before the morning bell, Challenge organizers encourage schools to rethink when and where breakfast is served. Making breakfast free for all students also helps increase participation.

"On an average day in Vermont, only about 45 percent of students who qualify for free meals, and 25 percent of all students, eat school breakfast. Far too many children are starting their school day hungry. Extensive research shows that the single most effective intervention a school can make to increase breakfast participation is to move breakfast after the bell," said Anore Horton, MA, MAT, Nutrition Initiatives Director with Hunger Free Vermont.

Before the Challenge, less than one-third of Guilford Elementary School students ate breakfast in the cafeteria. Participation increased after introducing the Grab `N' Go breakfast model — breakfasts are packaged and can be eaten in the cafeteria or classroom — yet school administrators knew they could do more. After earning a $1,630 Fuel Up to Play 60 grant from New England Dairy & Food Council, Guilford Elementary School moved breakfast into the classroom.

The result? In comparison to October 2015, breakfast participation increased by 67 percent.

And it's not only students that reap the benefits of school breakfast.

"Increasing breakfast participation by moving it after the bell can positively impact school meal program finances by increasing federal and state per-meal reimbursements," said Jill Hussels, RDN, Nutrition Specialist with New England Dairy & Food Council. "We see improvements in student learning and health, but also fewer reported trips to the nurse's office."

Round three of the challenge is currently underway, running a five-month span from January to May 2017.

To find out more information about the Vermont Breakfast After the Bell Challenge, visit Customized technical assistance from Hunger Free Vermont and the School Nutrition Association of Vermont is available to help schools determine the best form of breakfast after the bell. To get started, contact Anore Horton at 802-865-0255, ext.105, or email

Students, schools, and parents can learn more about breakfast funding eligibility in the "Funding" section at or email Jill Hussels at There are several application windows each year, with each funding cycle providing up to $4,000 per school. For more information about Fuel Up to Play 60 in New England, follow New England Dairy & Food Council on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and visit

Nearly 74,000 schools across the United States, including more than 3,600 here in New England, are participating in Fuel Up to Play 60. Developed by National Dairy Council, local Dairy Councils, and National Football League, in collaboration with United States Department of Agriculture, the program empowers students to drive change and work closely with educators to find creative ways to make their school a healthier place.

Ally Gallop is the manager of Nutrition Communications for the New England Dairy & Food Council and the New England Dairy Promotion Board. She can be contacted at


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