Lessons from the Flint Breakfast Coach Initiative
Children who eat breakfast are better prepared to learn, and school breakfast is proven to boost school achievement. Through a USDA Team Nutrition grant supporting the Superintendent’s First Fuel School Breakfast Challenge, the Michigan Department of Education School Nutrition Program developed several innovative strategies to increase the number of children eating breakfasts at school, or sometimes, on the way to school.
Piloting a Breakfast Coach Initiative was the result of the collaborative work of Flint Community Schools, Michigan Department of Education’s School Nutrition Program (Team Nutrition), Michigan No Kid Hungry and United Dairy Industry of Michigan. These organizations have worked to help increase breakfast participation in Michigan for many years and realized school districts may need help from an outside mentor to increase breakfast participation.
One approach to boost breakfast participation is to find a breakfast coach/champion to promote breakfast. In 2014, Flint Community Schools was one school district in Michigan to employ a breakfast coach. The district contracts with SodexoMAGIC, a private food-service company, to provide healthy school meals, and expanding breakfast was already on the radar for SodexoMAGIC. The breakfast coach added capacity to build relationships with school administration, but it was still a team effort with SodexoMAGIC’s general manager and nutrition professionals in the schools.
What is a Breakfast Champion?
Simply put, a breakfast champion believes in the benefits of a school breakfast program, and is willing to share stories and market the program to other administrators. Often, these champions fill new staff positions—as breakfast coaches—but they can also be someone already on staff who dedicates time to increasing breakfast participation.
Like many schools across the country, Flint Community Schools faces many challenges, including restructuring, limited resources, declining enrollment, and economically disadvantaged students. Despite these challenges, Flint Community Schools chose to tackle expanding breakfast participation head on.
Breakfast activities were rolled out at one elementary school first to pilot and test strategies. Early on, the breakfast coach surveyed students about breakfast items that interested them. In response, a new stuffed-bagel product was introduced once a week—selling out each time. After students suggested the idea, a buffet-style “oatmeal bar” was placed on the menu twice a week. Students could select a bowl of flavored oatmeal and then choose their own toppings.
The school also added second-chance breakfast opportunities for students who arrived too late for a before-class meal. Latecomers entered through a single door, where staff greeted students with a preassembled breakfast-on-the-go bag. This approach served an additional 100 to 125 students each day.
The breakfast coach and SodexoMAGIC then invited representatives from the other Flint schools to see the success of the oatmeal bar and second-chance breakfasts. Because of this marketing strategy, seven other schools introduced the buffet-style oatmeal bars. Two schools added second-chance breakfast.
District Food Service Director, Barnard Gladney, kept promoting breakfast and in early 2016, Flint Community Schools began offering breakfast in the classroom at a few schools. Principals from other schools got wind of the program and requested the same program be offered at their schools. Because of this latest push, breakfast in the classroom has really shown an immediate impact. In the 2015-16 school year, school breakfast participation was 62%. After implementing breakfast in the classroom program during the 2016-17 school year, participation has increased to 83%. This 21% increase provided access to breakfast for many more students. Students are able to select from hot & cold options, 2-3 fruit options, and milk daily. High Schools have the choice of breakfast smoothies two times per week and will soon have access to a oatmeal bar.
Lessons to Share
Building relationships is part of being a breakfast champion. Buy-in from administrators is crucial for success. Not only do champions interact with school administration and staff, but students recognize their champions. When champions are visible and available to students, students may feel comfortable enough to share their challenges regarding food at home.
Problem solving is part of being a breakfast champion. Each building and school culture is different and needs an individualized plan tailored to its unique circumstances. Breakfast champions will be more successful in expanding breakfast programs if they can help administrators solve logistics problems.
Marketing success is part of being a breakfast champion. The best way to let everyone know about the great things happening at your school is to tell them. Demonstrating a successful program is a great way to create buy-in from other administrators.
Michigan school breakfast partners led by United Dairy Industry of Michigan will continue to seek ways to promote breakfast participation. In particular, Michigan No Kid Hungry and their participation in the Social Innovation Fund (SIF) through Share Our Strength and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) will focus on six target counties in Southeast Michigan. Within each county, breakfast coaches will be assigned to test, promote, and institutionalize solutions aimed at increasing the utilization of school breakfast programs.
Funding for this project was provided by a Michigan Department of Education’s Team Nutrition Grant and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. This project is funded, at least in part, with federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the USDA, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
For more information contact:
Bernard Gladney Jr
Area General Manager, SodexoMAGIC