Kidsburgh – Martin Lorenzo couldn’t understand it.
The food service director for Gateway School District knew more kids were eligible for the free breakfast program, but they weren’t taking advantage of hot meals provided in the high school cafeteria.
Meet kids on their own turf by placing grab-and-go carts stocked with healthy breakfast items at convenient spots throughout the school.
“High school kids, being teenagers, Generation Z, they’re all about convenience, grab-and-go on the move,” Lorenzo says. “They want instant gratification. It’s just the way they’ve been wired with the technology revolution and smartphones. They want everything at their fingertips.”
At Sto-Rox, the breakfast carts are placed at strategic locations throughout the school. Food service director Nancy Hatton says that nutritional options are emphasized, with whole-grain blueberry and chocolate muffins the most popular items. Fruit, yogurt with granola, and cereal are also available, and the menu changes frequently.
Principal Tim Beck attributes increased participation in the program to convenience. “They grab it, sit with their buddies,” he says. “That’s what drives high school kids.”
Dowd thinks the increased participation may be partially due to mitigating an age-old problem: the embarrassment some kids feel because they rely on free meals.
“Some of the challenges that students face with things like breakfast or even lunch is the stigma associated with someone who qualifies for a free or reduced lunch,” Dowd says. “Trying to position (the carts) physically in places where kids are going to be, but also in a way that doesn’t have that stigma, is absolutely critical in making this work.”
Lorenzo agrees that sometimes students avoid free or reduced meal programs. “In their minds, school breakfasts are only for poor kids,” he says. The grab-and-go carts have mitigated that stigma at Gateway.
But at Sto-Rox, so many students are eligible for the program, there’s no stigma attached to accepting free breakfasts and lunches, says school superintendent Frank Dalmas. They may not want to stand in line in the school cafeteria, but they have no problem getting food from the carts.
To increase participation, Sto-Rox offers promotions, too.
“We didn’t just put the carts out there and expect kids to take food from them,” Dalmas says. “We did a lot of incentives over the last two years with prizes and awards. There are posters and advertisements, gift cards, to promote and push this. It takes the push and motivation from the staff to get this out to the kids, and once it gets to be a routine, it builds a momentum.”