How one K-12 operator is using LTOs to engage students

Food Service Director June Kell has made it her mission to find creative ways to get students excited about school meals.
Berry smoothie with donuts
Food Service Director June Kell served a berry smoothie topped with a muffin donut during National School Breakfast Week. / Photos courtesy of K-12 by Elior

Students at East Village Junior High Public Charter School in Little Rock, Ark., were treated to a fun breakfast treat during National School Breakfast Week (NSBW) earlier this spring: a berry smoothie topped with a blueberry muffin donut.

The dish happened by chance when June Kell, K-12 by Elior food service director, was out bargain hunting with her boyfriend.

“We were at this store, and I found these [donut] pans and they were like $2 a pan, and I was like, ‘I know what I'm doing for breakfast.’ And from there I went,” says Kell.

The menu item was a hit with students and Kell saw breakfast participation double on the day she served it.

Partnering with school leaders 

While it’s no longer NSBW, Kell still serves the smoothie, which continues to be met with rave reviews. She’s also added a berry parfait paired with a muffin donut.

“The kids love it,” says Kell. “I mean, they fly off the shelf.”

This past school year, Kell continued to engage East Village students through fun menu items and promotions. One popular event is a waffle promotion for students who get a 4.0 GPA.

The nutrition team got involved with the event after the principal had to stop hosting it at a local restaurant due to increasing costs.

“He reached out to me to see what I could do, so I said, ‘Well, let me buy some waffle makers and make this happen,’” says Kell.

Kell has also worked with teachers to provide special meals for events such as field days and reading competitions. Many of the teachers appreciate the meals, she says, since they would have had to purchase them using their own money otherwise.

“A lot of times these teachers will pull money from their own funds or pockets because they don't realize that we can partner with them and make a reimbursable lunch,” says Kell.

Taking time to plan ahead 

Kell’s main advice for developing special menu items and celebrating holidays is to plan ahead and work with school leaders.

“Anytime that we're doing any kind of marketing for National School Breakfast Week, National School Lunch Week, about a month ahead of time, I start visiting with the principals and say, ‘Hey, this is coming up and we want to do something,’” she says.

student with smoothie
Students loved the fun breakfast item, and Kell saw meal participation double when she served it. 

To help her track which celebrations are on the horizon, Kell relies on materials provided by K-12 by Elior.

“We provide monthly resources that have a calendar and then different days throughout the month, whether that's a national food day or holiday, or any of those bigger promotions,” says K-12 by Elior Marketing Manager Rylee Schaefer.

Menu inspiration can also happen anywhere, both online and off, says Kell, and operators should always keep an eye out for ways to spice up their offerings. “I'll see a picture and I'm thinking, “Hmm, where can I incorporate that? Where can that work to give the children something exciting and still be healthy, nutritious and I can partner with with the school and make it happen?’”



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