On May 31st the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit featured a session titled “Team Up: Breaking Breakfast Barriers.” Similar to other Team Up sessions sponsored by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and hosted by The John C. Stalker Institute, this mini-session focused on barriers and solutions from school nutrition professionals to promote the School Breakfast Program.
During this session, school nutrition professionals shared their experiences of how they increased the success of their school breakfast programs. The panel of speakers included: Food Service Director, Kristen Gentili, RD, LDN, from Natick Public Schools, West Bridgewater Public Schools’ Food Service Director, Ann Marie Grinder, Mashpee Public Schools’ Nutrition Coordinator,Gus Stickley Needham Public Schools’ Nutrition Outreach Coordinator, Jen Tuttelman, RD, and the Director of Food Service at Greenfield Public Schools, Madison Walker. Nutrition Education and School Wellness Training Coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Denise Courtney, MS, RD, was the facilitator of this panel session.
As panelists discussed their experiences with increasing participation in school breakfast programs, the barriers they encountered and their approaches to break down these barriers were overall similar.
Challenge: Students may be unwilling to go the cafeteria for breakfast.
- According to panelists Kristen Gentile and Ann Marie Grinder, breakfast was offered in the cafeteria at their schools, but students did not take advantage of the breakfast service. They found that students congregated in the school hallways in the morning or those waiting in the cafeteria did not get out of their seats to buy breakfast.
Solution: Provide a food cart or snack rack placed near the cafeteria for students take breakfast to go.
- The Natick High School has the breakfast cart open until late morning (10:00am) to give students an opportunity to purchase food in between classes.
Any school districts that wish to have breakfast carts that are used for school breakfast programs, such as those in Natick, can apply for a grant through New England Dairy and Food Council. The carts allow both cold and warm items to be served and can be placed at convenient locations in the school or school cafeteria.
- The Nutrition Coordinator of the Mashpee Public Schools Gus Stickley, shared with the attendees that they created a bagged, grab-and-go breakfast program that consisted of mostly pre-made items such as cereal, milk, and fruit. Students take these breakfasts to go as they enter the school in the morning.
Challenge: Schools may not allow food in the classroom. This creates issues with students having the time to buy food and eat it before class begins.
Solution: Allow breakfast in the classroom.
- It was found among panel members that there is a higher participation rate in breakfast programs in schools that allow food in the classroom. In these cases, students are able to purchase the breakfast (or get free or reduced breakfast) and eat it in the classroom.
- Madison Walker shared with the audience that in the Greenfield school district, over 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced breakfast, and it is encouraged that students eat in the classroom. In doing this, it was found that there was a reduced stigma around getting free or reduced breakfast, since all students are eating in the classroom.
The take away message from the panel about increasing the success of school breakfast programs… bring breakfast to the students and when possible, have students eat breakfast in the classroom.