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Middle School Student and Parent Perceptions of Government-Sponsored Free School Breakfast and Consumption: A Qualitative Inquiry in an Urban Setting

Bailey-Davis, Lisa, Virus, Amy, McCoy, Tara Alexis, Wojtanowski, Alexis, Vander Veur, Stephanie S., Foster, Gary D.
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2013 v.113 no.2 pp. 251-257
beverages, breakfast, children, focus groups, food purchasing, lunch, menu planning, middle schools, parents, school breakfast, stigma, students, taste, winter, youth
Universal free access to school breakfast is available in large urban schools, but participation rates are less than half of what they are at lunch. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the discrepancy between access and participation in school breakfast in a low-income, urban school district. Youth (n=23) and parents (n=22) were recruited from three middle schools where ≥50% of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Parent focus groups (n=2) and student focus groups (n=4) were conducted in the fall/winter of 2009/2010. Content analysis was conducted to code transcripts and a constant comparative technique was used to identify emergent themes. Findings were validated using triangulation methods. The following themes emerged from the student and parent perceptions: sociocultural beliefs, physical availability, economic accessibility, social stigma, and consumption practices. There was agreement between students and parents across most themes, except consumption practices. Students were commonly purchasing food and beverages on the way to school, which was in conflict with parent rules. Parents desired access to copies of the school menus to be more involved in breakfast decisions with their child and students desired input into menu planning and taste testing to overcome school meal quality concerns. Future research aiming to improve participation in the breakfast program should examine the impact of student involvement in school menu planning and environmental modifications to reduce the social stigma associated with the program.