Twenty four million school children sit down each weekday to a lunch provided in large part by Uncle Sam. This week, while schools across the nation celebrate this generous logistical feat with National School Lunch Week, the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) is grabbing the spotlight to spur schools to feed children their breakfast as well.

"Some would argue that breakfast is more important than lunch," said Ed Cooney, deputy director of FRAC, a national nonprofit law and advocacy center. "It's what fuels you for the day. In the psychological sense, how you feel about an institution that feeds you is going to be different from one in which you sit hungry all morning."

Since 1946, when school lunch became a federal program, schools have received cash per meal plus USDA-donated commodities. Half of all lunches served are free or at a reduced rate to children whose income meet the requirements. FRAC wants schools to take the government up on its offer to provide, depending on the income of the child's family, paid, reduced or free breakfasts. (Piloted in 1966, the proposal became an amendment to the Child Nutrition Act {1966} in 1975.)

At the moment, however, only 39 percent of schools offering lunch also serve breakfast, which works out to be only 3.7 million children across the country participating in a program that could be available to all elementary, junior-high and high-school students in public and nonprofit private schools. To encourage schools further, the government added a 3-cents subsidy per meal in 1986.

According to Cooney, FRAC's ambition is two fold. "We want more schools to participate and we want to increase the participation of children in schools that already have the program." He expects to do the latter by giving parents more information. And by 1990, he plans to have doubled the participation of the low income children from 3 million to 6 million.

"The kid who is hungry is not going to have the equal educational opportunities as the one who has gotten a meal," he said. A recent USDA study noted that on the average, children who eat a breakfast are substantially better nourished than those who skip breakfast. And according to several studies, skipping breakfast also inhibits school performance.

The breakfast program, designed to provide one quarter of the child's recommended daily dietary allowance, serves each child 1/2 pint fluid milk, 1/2 cup fruit or 1/2 cup full-strength fruit or vegetable juice, 1 slice bread or 1-ounce serving cereal and, "as often as possible," (left up to the discretion of the local school lunch director) a protein-rich food such as an egg, 1-ounce serving of meat, poultry, fish, cheese or two tablespoons peanut butter.

Sample breakfasts provided by FRAC for schools with cooking facilities include a baked apple, corn muffin and milk; mixed fruit, french toast and milk; and tomato juice, grilled cheese sandwich and milk. "But it doesn't require a complete kitchen," said Cooney, "there are meals that you can serve without heating."

Nearly 90 percent of the children who are eating breakfast at school receive free or reduced-price meals for which they pay no more than 30 cents. Not receiving breakfast at home, however, Cooney said, is not always a factor of income. "There are kids who arrive to school who haven't had breakfast and whose parents can afford it." And there are many school children, he said, who are required to take long bus trips to get to school. A meal at home might not sustain them until lunch.

In Prince William County, where eight elementary and two middle schools out of a total of 52 schools participate in the National School Breakfast program, "The schools who do participate are the schools that have a high percentage of students that qualify for free or reduced breakfasts," said Jenette Brenzovich. The assistant supervisor of food services for county schools, Brenzovich said, "We are providing it there because we feel that is where the need is."

Lately, however, she said the county has been looking into expanding the program. "There are now so many working mothers that are not there to prepare breakfast. I can see a definite need. Where at one time {low-income} was the primary force, there's now a different reason. Trends change. And we are looking into it."

According to Cooney, the most frequent excuse for not offering a school breakfast program is that bus and class schedules would be impaired. "But they could serve it in the home room, during the first 15 minutes."

In the District, where 12,656 students out of 87,515 total students eat breakfast at school, there are few buses to meddle with.

And in Arlington, where five elementary schools out of a total of 28 schools receive breakfast, no bus schedule change was needed. Classes start at 9:10 and breakfast is served at 8:45 just about the time the buses start rolling in.

And to the argument that serving breakfast is not the role of the school, but of the parent, Cooney said, "the American society today is a lot different than it was 20 years ago. Seventy percent of all working mothers have school-age children. People who have the finances might not have the time to feed their children. The nuclear family -- mom, dad, the station wagon, with the favorite dog, Spot, and the well-manicured lawn and the daily breakfast -- is not an accurate reflection of today's modern family. School officials need to take judicious note of that.