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R&IEditorial Archives2004 — May 1 — Business

Participation Counts
Diverse menus and varied serving styles help school breakfast succeed.

At Lawrence (Mass.) Public Schools, serving in-classroom breakfasts increased participation from 38% to 75%.

Among school foodservice managers, improving breakfast remains a major focus. If operated carefully, the daypart can generate significant revenue for districts: The greater the participation, the higher a school’s reimbursement through federal, state and local programs. Additionally, teachers whose schools serve breakfast report improved student attention in classrooms and more active participation in physical activities.

The challenge lies in tailoring breakfast delivery to fit the needs of the school. Some districts allow eating full meals in the classroom, while others permit beverages only. Many offer traditional cafeteria-style tray-line service. Buffet tables and grab-and-go bags are other options.

When breakfast comes to the classroom, it warrants support, says Ann Marie Stronach, foodservice director at Lawrence (Mass.) Public Schools. “You need one principal to implement it, plus one teacher to back it, and it blooms like a flower.’’

Of the district’s 26 schools, three offer grab-and-go, six have room service and the remainder use traditional hot-tray lines. “Room service is extra work for custodians and teachers. It means added expense for more trash containers and garbage bags, but it gets the greatest participation.” Switching to in-classroom breakfasts from traditional line service boosted participation from 38% to 75%. Some 4,000 district students are eligible for free breakfast, thanks to the Food and Nutrition Service School Breakfast Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Room for success
When Easley (N.C.) Senior High School last year introduced a pilot program for classroom breakfast, foodservice workers and teachers were leery. Critics thought the meal would create extra work, student disruption, unsightly trash and even possible insect infestations in classrooms. Plus, teachers would be required to do extra paperwork and manage student volunteers to deliver meals.

“But everyone was willing to try for 10 weeks,’’ says Doris Winchester, cafeteria manager. “The principal and teachers supported us.’’ Perks such as free meals for faculty members encouraged teachers, who discovered that student punctuality improved as kids arrived well before the 8:10 a.m. bell.

7.5 million
Average number of children fed daily in 2002 through the 38-year-old National School Breakfast Program at a cost of $1.56 billion.

It also turned out to be cost effective. “Serving 750 students is almost as easy as 100,’’ she says. Compared to cafeteria-style service with foods cooked in advance, there is little waste. Breakfast arrives only after students were seated and attendance was taken. Eating is allowed during roll call and homeroom announcements, so teaching is not interrupted.

Winchester rarely rotates the menu or serving days because students look forward to certain items such as chicken biscuits, French toast sticks and breakfast pizza on set days.

Meal cost is based on ability to pay: Full fee is 75 cents; reduced, 30 cents. Some students are eligible for free meals based on federal guidelines. Student ID tags are swiped electronically, and money is automatically deducted from individual accounts.

Since the program was approved, 750 students out of 1,550 take breakfast, and monthly reimbursement increased from $320 to $785.

Last September, breakfast in the classroom was made available district-wide. Four of 22 schools in the Pickens County School System followed Easley’s example. “When one middle school issued a [no breakfast for late-comers], policy, tardiness dropped 50%,’’ says Winchester.

Eating in classrooms is not allowed at Chicopee (Mass.) Public Schools, where students take breakfast at buffet tables in each of 15 school cafeterias. The table with 12 to 15 items also attracts students with eyes bigger than stomachs. “We remind them to start out with just three items; they can return for more. It’s how we control waste,’’ says Joanne Lennon, foodservice director.

Introducing new items and rotating others encourages participation. Breakfast pizza is popular, as are juice flavors berry, punch and grape.

A bonus for participants is the district’s sticker program, for which each diner gets a sticker per visit. Students with 20 are awarded T-shirts and pencils, while adults get tote bags. Over a five-year period, breakfast participation has increased from 1,100 students to 2,000.

Meeting the test
Director of School Nutrition Joan Kidd devised three serving styles to fit the needs of 140 schools and special education centers of DeKalb County (Ga.) Schools. To offset a complicated bus schedule that deposits students at different times, she created three Express Breakfast options, available to most schools: bag breakfast, traditional cafeteria line and self-serve grab-and-go table. Hot items offered two to three times a week always increase participation, she says. Insulated packaging that maintains temperatures for hot items such as sausage biscuits and turkey rolls ensures food quality. Menus are posted on the district’s Web site and sent home via e-mails to parents.

“Staff communication is critical to the success of our breakfast program,’’ Kidd says, referring to the 80 managers and 800 employees who daily produce 21,800 breakfasts.

Morning Social

Eating something hot for breakfast with the family is part of Hispanic culinary tradition. Foodservice Director Adele Balesh uses this custom to promote the meal at Canutillo (Texas) Independent School District (right).

All four schools are within a three-mile radius. Transportation is easy, with some students walking to campus while others catch buses. Hot-breakfast service starts at 7 a.m., and all children eat free. The district qualifies under Universal Free Provision II Breakfast and Lunch Program for federal funding; parents pay a modest fee for la carte items. The sound from the cafeterias is festive as elementary students and parents pass bowls of hot oatmeal and wheat and rice cereals.

Balesh tailors serving styles to fit the ages of students. There’s a serve-yourself breakfast burrito bar at Canutillo Middle School that offers 10 fillings including pork, chicken and beef.

Teens pressed for time at Canutillo High School bag it. An umbrella-shaded cart at one school is located near a bus stop and offers a variety of wrapped muffins, doughnuts, granola bars, juices and milk.

Because the Canutillo community has a high rate of diabetes and obesity, Balesh asks vendors for low-fat cheeses and cheese sauces and baked tortillas, not fried. “They’re happy to help. They want the business,’’ she says.

Five years after implementation, the breakfast program has raised participation from 53% to 75%.

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