Using Innovation to Drive Breakfast Participation

Millions of kids in America face the school day on an empty stomach. But hungry kids can’t learn. Simply making breakfast a part of the school day changes everything. This spring, we are on track to announce one million more kids are eating school breakfast! This accomplishment is only possible because of the hard-working school leaders in communities across the country. 

In honor of National School Breakfast Week, we bring you today’s School Breakfast Hero, Jennifer Smith, Area Manager of Marketing and Catering, Orange County Public Schools, Florida

Using Innovation to Drive Breakfast Participation

For the Orange County Public School District, being innovative is what really sets them apart. Increasing participation in school breakfast is a new concept for them but they have already seen great results in a very short amount of time. “We’ve always participated in National School Breakfast Week and encouraged kids to eat breakfast,” Jennifer noted, “But now we are focused on designing new strategies and looking at new models to get more participation in breakfast.”

Golf Carts: Jennifer’s district received a grant to retrofit three existing golf carts with equipment to hold and serve hot and cold food, as well as a Point-of-Sale system that connects right to the school meal computer system. These golf carts exist to bring meals to the students, especially on the bigger, more sprawling campuses. Each cart can hold about 75-100 breakfasts at a time, and in this pilot phase the golf carts have helped to feed 120 additional breakfasts each day. Jennifer compares the carts to a food truck–breakfast cart hybrid. Kids who get to school at the last minute who otherwise wouldn’t have time to get to the cafeteria are able to still grab a meal on their way to class, meaning they won’t miss out on breakfast.

“Magical Breakfast”: Sponsored by Kellogg’s, this campaign is allowing any student who eats breakfast to be entered in to winning a pair of tickets to Disney World. This year 9 pairs of tickets are up for grabs (one winner per week) and the increase in breakfast participation is up from last year by 4% district wide in elementary schools alone.  

Changing Perceptions of Breakfast in the Classroom: In some schools in Jennifer’s district, breakfast in the classroom is now a breakfast concierge service.  Food and Nutrition Services staff deliver food to the classroom in a “room service” style, as they always have, but this change in title gives the program an upscale feel.  The district menu team and school managers also worked together to create a “breakfast for achievers” menu that’s spill-proof, without syrups or sauces, to keep messes to a minimum.

Jennifer and her team credit their breakfast innovation to a district-wide commitment to increase breakfast participation. Having the support of the superintendent and the school board and a district policy that makes breakfast mandatory in every school has changed the whole culture of the district.

Jennifer’s Top Marketing Ideas for Promoting School Breakfast:

  • Create a menu of different breakfast delivery methods to give different schools the opportunity to choose what works for them.
  • Conduct focus groups and understand the wants and needs of your students. Look at the demographics and learn what the students like and don’t like in different age groups or schools.
  • Meet students where they are. Don’t expect students to find the breakfast program, take breakfast to them.  This may mean delivering to the classroom, setting up grab and go kiosks to catch students entering school from the bus, or even putting breakfast on wheels to find students all throughout campus!  
  • Reach out to vendors and ask them what they’re able to provide as a marketing incentive to get more kids eating or to improve the products being offered.