Thursday, February 09, 2006

The 30 Minute Mass Feeding

When it comes to feeding youngsters in one Virginia school district, the emphasis is on efficiency:
The sun hasn't been up for half an hour yet, and Laburnum Elementary School is buzzing.

Students are jumping out of cars, filing off of school buses and spilling through the front doors to the cafeteria in a pint-size frenzy.

With gentle guidance from school staff members, the youngsters roll through cafeteria lines to grab milk and a packaged breakfast. Among the culinary temptations are Pop-Tarts, cereal and pancake on a stick.

Laburnum's school food-service workers have roughly 30 minutes to feed about 300 students. And they do it five days a week.

To re-create that efficiency and make managing the morning meal easier for other food-service workers at Henrico County elementary and middle schools, the county school system this year offered grab-and-go breakfasts to schools. Laburnum tested them last year, and now 30 county elementary and middle schools offer the pre-packaged meal.

One of the grab-and-go options in some schools is a Breakfast Breaks box that contains cereal, a 100 percent fruit-juice box and a bread/grain snack such as crackers. Students also get milk.

Laburnum fourth-grader Tarshae McKeiver scooped Cocoa Puffs from her boxed breakfast last week and explained that she chooses Breakfast Breaks because it includes the cereal brand she likes. She said she has gotten into the habit of eating breakfast at school.

"I eat here because it gives me time, so I don't really have to rush myself" at home in the morning, she said.

Not every Henrico school serves breakfast -- it's up to the school administrators, though it's encouraged, said Deborah S. McFee, director of Henrico's school food service.

In Henrico, breakfast routines vary by school, but overall the grab-and-go meals help food-service workers serve many children quickly. Grab-and-go meals cost the same as other breakfast offerings, $1.10, and students can qualify for free or reduced-price breakfast.

"The kids really like it, and it has increased our breakfast participation in several schools," McFee said. "Items offered are branded, and kids like that."

All public schools in Richmond serve breakfast, and the elementary schools offer a grab-and-go meal, according to schools spokeswoman Treeda R. Smith. Richmond schools will soon test the grab-and-go morning meals in middle and high schools as well, she said.

Every Hanover County public school serves breakfast, but none offers a pre-packaged meal. All public high schools in Chesterfield County serve breakfast, as do 20 county elementary and middle schools. Some items are made for quick pick-up, while not necessarily bagged or boxed.

The school breakfast program is administered federally by the federal Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service and operates similarly to the school lunch programs. Participating school districts receive cash subsidies for each meal they serve. The districts must serve breakfasts that meet federal requirements and offer free and reduced-price meals to eligible children.

In Virginia, 1,683 schools in 130 of 132 school divisions are participating in the school breakfast program this year, according to the state Department of Education. Falls Church city schools and West Point schools do not participate.

Nationally, about 80 percent of qualifying school divisions participate in the breakfast program, accounting for about 1.6 million breakfast meals served in 2005, according to the USDA.

Although the program has shown strong growth recently, it still reaches only two in five eligible children, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based nonprofit research and public-policy center focused on eradicating hunger.
Heh. I guess the next logical step will be to feed the kids dinner as well as breakfast and lunch.

One might be tempted to think of it as "food-free parenting."
See this week's Carnival Of Education right here and our latest education-related posts over there.