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School Breakfast Program

Information about applying for and administering the School Breakfast Program (SBP).

Program Information

What is the School Breakfast Program?

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) is a federally funded program which assists schools and other agencies in providing nutritious breakfasts to children at reasonable prices. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)External link opens in new window or tab. is responsible for overseeing the program nationally. In California, the program is administered by the California Department of Education (CDE).

Why should we participate in the School Breakfast Program?

There are numerous reasons to start a School Breakfast Program. Many children do not have the opportunity to eat breakfast on a regular basis because of working parents, long bus rides, or the inability of families to provide enough food. These children are hungry when they reach school. They will continue to be hungry until lunch time, or they may eat less nutritious food to stave off hunger pangs.

Studies have shown that children whose nutritional needs are met have fewer attendance and discipline problems, and their ability to learn is enhanced. In addition, those schools that have a National School Lunch Program (NSLP) make more efficient use of their food service department by also operating a School Breakfast Program.

Are we required to offer breakfast?

Beginning in school year 2022–23, the California Education Code (EC) Section 49501.5 requires all public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades transitional kindergarten through grade 12 (TK–12) to provide two meals free of charge (breakfast and lunch) during each school day to students requesting a meal, regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.

Local educational agencies (LEA) are still required to abide by federal regulations and guidelines as Universal Meals is meant to supplement, not replace, the federal school nutrition programs. LEAs operating standard meal counting and claiming must still collect the required household meal applications and determine students’ eligibility for free and reduced-price meals. LEAs operating under a provision, such as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or Provision 2 (in a non-base year), must collect alternative income forms to determine supplemental and concentration grants under the Local Control Funding Formula.

Under EC Section 49501.5, the meal reimbursement amount will not exceed the difference between the federal and state free reimbursement rates. State reimbursements will be provided for reduced-price and paid meals to ensure LEAs receive the same reimbursement for those meal categories as they would for meals served at the free reimbursement rate.

While participation in the School Nutrition Programs is optional, all public school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools must comply with the state meal mandate to provide two meals free of charge during each school day to students requesting a meal. However, only LEAs that participate in the NSLP and SBP are eligible to receive the state meal reimbursement.

What type of breakfast must be offered?

Please see the CDE's School Menu Planning Options web page for meal pattern information and CDE's Meal Patterns and Menu Planning web page for complete information.

What is involved in operating a School Breakfast Program?

There are many similarities between the SBP and the NSLP. Both programs must be open to all enrolled children. If a child already qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches, then the child would also qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts. Also, records must be kept to document that the breakfast program follows all federal and state rules and regulations. Such records include: 

  • Meal production records and inventory records which document the amounts and types of food used.
  • The number of breakfasts served each day, by site and by category (free, reduced-price, and full price).

The CDE's review of each agency's breakfast program is generally done in conjunction with the review of the agency's NSLP. Those agencies that annually receive $500,000 or more in federal funds (from all sources) must also be audited each year.

What are the differences among the School Breakfast Program, the Basic Breakfast Program, and the Severe Need Breakfast Reimbursement?

The terms Basic Breakfast Program and Severe Need Breakfast Reimbursement are synonymous with the term School Breakfast Program. The primary difference between the two programs is that the Severe Need Breakfast Reimbursement offers higher rates of reimbursement for sites determined to be in severe need if, two years prior, 40 percent or more of the lunches served at the site were free or reduced-price. Sites must annually re-establish their eligibility for the Severe Need Breakfast Reimbursement.

While the meal and record keeping requirements are the same, the reporting requirements differ. Basic Breakfast Program agencies must report food program cost and revenue information annually.

How do we increase participation?

LEAs have the flexibility to choose a meal service model that best fits the needs of their school site. Alternative meal service models, such as breakfast in the classroom, grab and go service, or second chance breakfast, can expand access and increase program participation. Please see USDA's Energize Your Day with School Breakfast Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) for more information on implementing and marketing your breakfast program. Visit the USDA’s Ways to Serve Toolkit External link opens in new window or tab. (PDF) for specific information about Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go, and Nutrition Breaks. There are also a variety of resources provided on the No Kid Hungry’s School Breakfast Center for Best Practices External link opens in new window or tab., including steps to implement Breakfast After the Bell, Breakfast on the Bus, and how to launch a School Breakfast Challenge.

How do we get paid?

The SBP is operated on a reimbursement basis, with agencies paid on the number of meals served. Agencies submit a monthly reimbursement claim through the Child Nutrition Information Payment System (CNIPS). After the CDE reviews and approves the claim, it is processed by the State Controller's Office and a check is issued. Agencies typically receive reimbursement within four to six weeks after submitting the reimbursement claim. Visit the CDE's Fiscal Nutrition Services web page for claim for reimbursement instructions and calculation worksheets.

Under the School Breakfast Program, payment is based on the number of breakfasts served multiplied by the appropriate reimbursement rate. Depending on an LEA’s eligibility, reimbursement is from federal funding and possibly state funds. Please visit the CDE's Rates, Eligibility Scales, and Funding web page for the current rates and grant opportunities.

The California Universal Meals Program is subject to budget appropriation. The state will provide supplemental funding intended to cover the difference between the federal free meal reimbursement rate and the reduced-price and paid reimbursement rates. This means LEAs participating in the NSLP and SBP will receive the federal reimbursement rate for meals served by student eligibility type, and state meal reimbursement that is the difference between the federal and state free and reduced-price meal reimbursement amount and the paid rate. For detailed information on reimbursement rates, please see the Child Nutrition Program Meal Reimbursement Rates web page.

Are there any additional funding opportunities for breakfast programs?

There are a variety of funding opportunities for LEAs participating in the SBP. These include the SBP and Summer Meal Programs (SMP) Start-up and Expansion Grant, the Equipment Assistance Grant (EAG), and the Kitchen Infrastructure and Training (KIT) Funding.

The SBP and SMP Start-up and Expansion Grants are competitive grants of up to $15,000 per school site for nonrecurring expenses incurred when initiating or expanding an SBP or SMP. For more information, please visit the CDE's School Breakfast and Summer Meal Grants web page.

The EAG is designed to help schools serve healthier meals, improve food safety, ease challenges related to supply chain disruptions, expand meal service to pre-K students, to help support the implementation of Universal Meals, and to expand the SBP. For more information, please visit the CDE's 2022 NSLP Equipment Assistance Grant web page.

The KIT Funding allocations provide LEAs with additional state funds to purchase equipment and upgrades to kitchen infrastructures and offer food service staff training. For more information, please visit the CDE's 2022 Kitchen Infrastructure and Training Funds web page.

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Questions:   School Nutrition Programs Unit | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Thursday, February 16, 2023
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    July 1, 2010, Joint Letter with the California Department of Education and the California State Controller's Office regarding the importance of a strong School Breakfast Program (SBP).
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