2012 Silver Plate—Lyman Graham: New Mexico’s Triple Play Man

Increasing breakfast participation key to districts’ turnaround.

There are 38 schools and 18,000 students in the three southeast New Mexico districts for which Graham manages foodservice. Under Graham’s guidance the districts have increased participation and achieved financial stability.

At a Glance: Lyman Graham
•Foodservice Director at Roswell Independent School District, Carlsbad Municipal Schools and Dexter Consolidated Schools in New Mexico
•Years in school foodservice: 20 years
•Meals per day: 23,585
•Foodservice employees: 170

Lyman Graham’s operational achievements:

•The three districts have excelled financially under Graham. Dexter’s budget increased from $236,000 to $700,000. Graham took a struggling Carlsbad foodservice department that was $300,000 in the red to a $550,000 fund balance seven years later. Similarly, under Graham’s leadership Roswell’s $430,000 budget deficit was turned into a $1.5 million fund balance in the nine years that Graham has been at the helm.

•One of the biggest reasons the districts turned around financially was because of an increase in participation. Graham first concentrated on breakfast, by offering students meals after school starts with programs such as breakfast in the classroom and nutrition breaks—free for every student. Graham pays for the cost of breakfast for students in the reduced-price and free meals category out of his budget. Since making these changes, breakfast participation has increased from 10% to 30%, depending on the district, to almost 95%. Graham says by focusing on breakfast first he was able to get students to buy into the meals program and as a result his lunch participation has increased. “Students eventually find out that cafeteria food is not bad,” he says.

•“I have strived really hard to meet the [USDA] regulations and for the children to enjoy what they get,” Graham says. Offering more choices, making more scratch-made items and menuing local favorites such as burritos and mashed potato-based dishes have also helped increase student acceptability of the meals program.

•Graham uses catering and fundraiser dinners to market the foodservice program to students, family and the community at no cost to the district.

•When funds were tight, Graham got creative to build salad bars. Old steam tables filled with ice were used as a holding base for bowls of produce.

•Graham, along with teachers, runs a gingerbread man program. After reading “The Gingerbread Man,” the students bake gingerbread cookies in the kitchen. After the gingerbread man “runs away,” the students follow him around the district, meeting superintendents and principals, while learning their way around the schools. “It builds a great relationship between the kindergarteners and the school cafeteria and therefore you have them hooked for the rest of the 12 years,” Graham says.

•Graham was named Outstanding Director of the Year in 2011 by the School Nutrition Association. In 1999, he was given the Master Teacher of the Year for Dexter schools. “It’s always been a great big honor,” Graham says of the award. “Most people don’t feel like cafeteria people are anything but dishwashers or cooks.”