Pathways to Excellence in School Food: Encouraging Breakfast

August 05, 2013

Pathways: Marketing + Communications

School food programs across the country are trying to reinvent themselves in response to the critical health needs of students. Over the past year, Healthy Schools Campaign has been working with the Chicago Public Schools to develop a comprehensive plan to achieve excellence in their school meal program. This plan centers around 10 interconnected pathways that are critical to success of every school food program.

This week, we highlight efforts to improve marketing and communications. Click here to learn more about the 10 pathways to excellence in school food and to read about Chicago Public Schools’ action plans for achieving excellence in school nutrition.

The link between breakfast and academic achievement is clear and well-documented, but many barriers make it difficult to ensure that students eat breakfast each morning. At home, the desire to get a few more minutes of sleep and the rush of families getting to school and/or work on time means that most students do not eat breakfast at home. Although CPS schools have traditionally offered breakfast in the cafeteria prior to the start of school, student participation has been low. Getting to school early is not easy and if students do arrive early, they would need to give up a few minutes of socializing with friends in favor of breakfast.

The challenge facing CPS is how to encourage students to eat breakfast. First, they redesigned the program, bringing it out of the cafeteria and integrating it into the morning routine. All elementary schools are now required to offer breakfast in the classroom and high schools can implement a Grab & Go breakfast program. Even with the new breakfast format, CPS needed to encourage students to take advantage of this program. Keleigh Green-Patton, CPS Project Manager for the breakfast program, says the key was communicating to elementary students that breakfast is “fun, a necessity and convenient.” The team used colorful stations and signage that presented breakfast in an appealing way, set up conveniently near student entrances.

For high school students, Green-Patton and her team knew they needed a different approach, adopting a “working breakfast” model. CPS modified the high school breakfast menu to include portable items that were easy to eat on the way to class. This included cereal bars, breakfast sandwiches, yogurt and fresh fruit. “The kids appreciated that we were acknowledging that they were older than the elementary school students,” said Ricardo Trujillo, principal of Roosevelt High School, the first Grab & Go breakfast pilot. “The packaging was more mature, the coloring more subdued.” With the new program designs and the effective marketing campaigns, CPS has seen breakfast participation increase by 300% at participating high schools.

Keep checking the blog for more on this topic! Read more about the report and download it here.