The New York Times suggested in a recent editorial that providing both free breakfasts and free lunches for all children would be a great thing, in part because a school population that is better nourished is “more ready to learn.”
While this seems intuitive, it may not be true. Universal free school breakfasts were studied more than a decade ago in a pilot project mandated by Congress. The surprising result:
“The evaluation found that universal-free breakfast participation had no significant effect on a broad array of measures, including attendance, tardiness, academic achievement, cognitive functioning, behavior, health status, food security and BMI. The study found a small but significant and negative effect on teacher-rated behavioral opposition among long-term participants in UF breakfast.” (USDA, 2004)
Proponents of free meals should think carefully before going down that path.