When blurry-eyed kids traipse through the breakfast line in the early hours of the morning before the start of school at Park Terrace, they are assured of not only healthy food but of a smile.
“I always tell our cooks to smile when kids come through,” said Ann Richly, District 16’s food service operations coordinator. “It might be the only smile they get all day and the only meal they get.”
The district is on a campaign to encourage kids to eat healthier foods. And it all starts with breakfast.
Last week kids at the school enjoyed their favorite breakfast – warm cinnamon rolls. That, and a banana and juice. Cold cereal and toast are optional.
“Sometimes they’ll say ‘you guys make the best meals,’” said Chris Dahnke, Park Terrace cook manager.
Sixty-six kids at Park Terrace grabbed their food and headed for the cafeteria Feb. 24 to eat together and enjoy each other’s company. Usually, 80 kids show up on cinnamon roll day. Richly figures the cold weather (about 6 degrees) had something to do with the lower numbers.
Cost for District 16’s breakfasts are $1.15. Kids on free and reduced lunch receive their breakfasts at no charge.
With the money received from students, federal and state government and averaging out revenue for free, reduced and full-pay lunch, the district produces breakfasts for about $1.70 a piece.
About 40 percent pays for food, 40 percent for labor and 20 percent for other (equipment, utensils, etc.), according to Rychly.
The district’s 2009-10 self-sustaining food service budget is $1,918,260, according to Amy Schultz, the district’s business manager.
The district’s breakfasts are healthier than in the past. Cooks are trying to cut back on sugar, salt and transfats in the food.
At Spring Lake Park High School, for example, the district’s food service once offered what Richly describes as “to-die-for” 4-ounce cinnamon rolls. But the rolls have been downsized. Now students get 2.5 ounce rolls. The idea is to cut back on the fat in the roll and sugar in the frosting.
To Richly, breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day.
“They need food to keep them alert,” Richly said. “So many of these kids don’t get any at home. A nice warm breakfast helps them learn.”
But change sometimes has a way of moving at a snail-like pace.
It took five years of requests, for instance, to get whole grain breads on the menu, Richly said.
“The wheel turns, but it turns very slowly,” she said.
Some of the more popular breakfast foods the district serves are waffles, breakfast pizza and pancake dogs, a breakfast sausage wrapped in a pancake.
“They’re grateful to get a good meal,” said food cashier Colleen Mecl. “They just smile. They take a while to pick out their food.”
Richly recalls about 15 years ago when she was cook manager at the high school. Only one boy showed up for breakfast. He’d stop in the kitchen to get his food. His options, at the time, were cold cereal and milk and two pieces of toast with peanut butter and jelly.
Today, in its quest to offer healthier foods in the schools, a dozen people, including District 16 parents, staff, food service staff and administration have formed a group to look into healthier eating during the day. That would include treats handed out at birthdays and offering candy for prizes or learning reinforcement in the classroom.
Richly said she expects a few disagreements to surface at first, but the changeover to healthier treats should help the children, she said.
A hitch in the food service system emerged at the beginning of the school year at the high school. Buses were arriving too late for the students to grab breakfast. They complained.
As a result, bus time was moved back five minutes to accommodate the students, according to Richly. Students are now happily enjoying their warm cinnamon rolls.
The high school serves between 150 to 200 students in its breakfast program between 7 and 7:30 a.m.
Richly estimates about 45 percent of District 16 students eat breakfast at school, while about 74 percent of the 4,600 students participate in the lunch program.
Breakfast-served totals at SLP Distrist 16 since September 2009 include the following: High School, 10,956; Westwood, 2,399; Northpoint, 9,504; Woodcrest, 9,788 and Park Terrace 5,701. Lunch cost is $1.15; there is no charge for free and reduced lunch.
Richly offers parents the following tips on serving healthy foods for their kids.
• Eat dinner with your kids. It’s good family-bonding time and allows for interaction and discussions.
• Offer better choices for healthier snacks, such as fruits, veggies and low-fat chips, rather than candy bars and pop.
SLP High School is the only school in the district with a vending machine available to students, but not during lunch time.
Some of the machine choices are nuts, chips, candy bars and pop.
“We’d like to work on that, too,” Richly said about the high-sugar content candy bars and pop.
As for her own breakfast, Richly walks the talk. Last week, she ate a whole-grain, thinly sliced, low-fat slice of toast and washed it down with milk. For her mid-morning snack, low-fat yogurt and a banana were on the menu.
A healthy breakfast keeps her alert at work as well.
“We all want the same thing,” she said. “We want the kids to eat a healthier breakfast and lunch.”
Elyse Kaner is at firstname.lastname@example.org