Breakfast Business

District with low free and reduced percentage finds financial success offering breakfast free to all students.

Hallway kiosks are one method the district is using to
serve breakfast.

Everyone knows the saying, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Byron Sackett, child nutrition director for 12,000-student Lincoln County Schools, questioned why that notion wasn’t being taken to heart in his district. So Sackett thought the best way to add emphasis to breakfast was to offer the morning meal free to all students, regardless of their payment status.

LINCOLNTON, N.C.—Everyone knows the saying, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. One child nutrition director in North Carolina questioned why that notion wasn’t being taken to heart in his district.

“We’ve heard that [saying] since we were kids, but nobody seems to make [breakfast] such a big initiative, whether that be parents at home or school districts,” says Byron Sackett, child nutrition director for 12,000-student Lincoln County Schools. “Our society as a whole says it, but we don’t back it up. One of the things I did when I took over as child nutrition director [in 2009] was I said, let’s make breakfast the most important meal of the day.”

Free for all: Sackett thought the best way to add emphasis to breakfast was to offer the morning meal free to all students, regardless of their payment status. About 48% of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

Sackett says breakfast is not a socioeconomic issue. Instead, he views students’ non-eating of breakfast as a problem across the economic board, which led him to offer the meal free to all students, beginning two years ago.

Each school serves breakfast in different ways, from a traditional cafeteria model to breakfast in the classroom and kiosks in hallways. “Without support from the administration, [this program] is not going to happen, so we made sure the school-level administrators who are responsible for the building and the school improvement team have a say-so in how it’s done,” he adds. “Whatever works best for that school is the way we’re doing it.”

Schools offer both hot and cold breakfast options, depending on the service style. There is a minimum of three entrées offered daily.

Before starting the universal feeding program, breakfast participation hovered around 15%. Since starting the program it is between 40% and 50%. “We’re ecstatic about that. We’re not satisfied,” Sackett says. “We would like to see it closer to 70%. The high schools and middle schools are the biggest areas to grow. One of the high schools [was] averaging 80 kids a day, and this week they broke 400 for the first time. Everyone is involved; the principal at the school is involved. He comes down and [helps] serve breakfast and lunch to the students.”

The bottom line: Sackett says the department has benefitted financially from the new program. Several grants from organizations such as Share Our Strength and Fuel Up to Play 60 have helped fund the cause. In addition, Sackett has seen more students eating school lunch. “That’s the most amazing thing. There were a lot of kids who were afraid [of the school meal program because they didn’t understand it],” he says. “I would say about 4% or 5% of the students who never ate with us [before] are now coming through our lines.”

Labor hasn’t been an issue, Sackett adds. “I have to have a certain amount of labor hours whether we are serving 20 breakfasts or 400 breakfasts. By going to a  quick, grab-and-go breakfast—a lot of it is prepackaged items—we were actually able to sustain the amount of labor we were currently using, or decrease in a few cases. Instead of us losing money on breakfast, it is becoming a cash flow opportunity for us to put back into the lunch program. With the new regulations about to hit, some of the cost increases for lunch can be compensated by breakfast.”

Sackett says his department is helping other districts set up similar programs. “We want to be a leader and promote it out to everybody else,” he says.

“Find the one administrator who is going to be very supportive,” Sackett advises. “Roll it out slowly. Do it one school at a time. The best advocate that you can have is a principal who is going to go to his peers and say this is going to be great. Peers listen to each other better than someone from the outside. The principals and administrators are ultimately responsible for what happens in their schools, so respect that and get them involved in the process.”  

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
fsd culinary council

Michigan Dining’s executive chef, Frank Turchan, and his team prepared many of the meals for attendees during FoodService Director’s second annual Culinary Council Summit, held in early October. The final multicourse dinner took place at Maizie’s Kitchen & Market, a new venue that is part of the Marketplace in the Michigan League, a campus building built in 1929.

The Marketplace, which was carved out of a former study hall, offers hot meal service and a grab-and-go section featuring bento boxes, charcuterie boards and meal kits customers can take home for dinner. There’s also...

Menu Development
fsd culinary council

Avocados are a staple on mainstream menus, yet many foodservice operations limit their use to guacamole, avocado toast, sandwiches and salads. The 12 chefs attending FoodService Director’s Culinary Council Summit, held this fall at University of Michigan, learned how to take avocados into new menu territory through a presentation by sponsor Avocados from Mexico and hands-on kitchen time with its chef, Brian Wilford.

Chef Wilford began with a demo of avo-chicharrons —fried avocado wedges coated with crushed chicharrons or pork rinds. He served these with Mexican crema for dipping,...

Industry News & Opinion

Time Magazine recently named Houston Independent School District (HISD) Officer of Nutrition Services Betti Wiggins one of its 50 most influential people in healthcare .

Wiggins joined HISD in 2017, overseeing the district’s nutrition program, which serves over 280,000 meals daily. During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last year, Wiggins helped serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to students and their families and played a role in making meals free for all students for the rest of the school year. Today, the district (the nation's seventh-largest) continues to provide meals to...

Industry News & Opinion
food as medicine market

University Hospitals in Cleveland has opened a new Food for Life Market, which will provide healthy food as a means to address chronic health conditions as well as the issue of food insecurity for patients and nearby residents.

University Hospitals will offer patients one week’s worth of food free of charge following a referral from their physician. Patients will also receive the option to meet with University Hospital dietitians who can help them with their dietary needs by encouraging optimal food choices.

Patients are also eligible to receive food assistance once a month...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code