Breakfast business—cooking from scratch

For schools, this proves challenging.

Demand for freshness is spurring foodservices of all types to consider more scratch cooking in the morning, but school cafeterias are finding that quest tougher to pursue when they start serving breakfast in the classroom.

In part, “it’s a volume thing,” explains Dan Witt, supervisor of food services for Pueblo County (Colo.) School District 70. He’s already seen his breakfast volume increase five-fold, to 300 morning meals, since he implemented classroom service. With that big of a jump in a small time period, Witt says it’s hard to keep up with demand and cook items from scratch.

Add in the need for portability and variety, and scratch cooking suddenly becomes much more difficult, especially with the labor costs involved.

“I always look for ways I can do scratch cooking, but it’s not always feasible,” says Witt.

So, he says, his district prepares a breakfast burrito from scratch but buys packaged items such as waffles and mini pancakes. For complex dishes like biscuits and gravy, “it’s pretty much half and half,” he says; the gravy is rehydrated from a powder, but other elements are cooked from scratch.

“If there’s something I can do from scratch, I will,” he adds.

Using prepared items is a little easier for Witt because he finds more high-quality and healthful options are available today from suppliers. “They’re moving in the right direction,” he comments.

Still, some customers want to see their breakfasts made right then from scratch, even if they can get the same thing in a prepackaged form, says Melodie Strickland, cafeteria manager for the World Dining-managed foodservice of the Honeywell plant in Rocky Mount, S.C. “[Customers] tell us, ‘I want my eggs scrambled for me. I don’t want to have them already put together,’” she explains. “It’s the same thing, but they want it made fresh.”

That’s a challenge when breakfast service extends to breaks and a new wave of employees floods the cafeteria every 10 minutes to grab something and get back to work within a short time frame. Strickland tries to meet that demand without waste by cooking eggs every five minutes for grab-and-go sandwiches.