Charleston County School District in Charleston, S.C
Breakfast is supposed to be nourishing, comforting, satisfying and a bit exciting. Unfortunately, the perception of school breakfast is often the exact opposite. One district in South Carolina, Charleston County, decided to shake up their menu to change that perception simply by creating a new reality–an enticing, filling, and satisfying breakfast menu. They rolled out a new menu for their middle and high school students last fall, called “Flipping the Script” on School Breakfast.
In the Charleston County school district, the state’s second largest district, more than 46,000 meals are served daily, including breakfast, lunch and supper. “The parents trust us to feed their kids,“ say district employees, and they take that trust seriously. When developing the new breakfast menu, the school nutrition team wanted to add items that were not only nutritious and satisfying, but traditional and local–in other words, comfort foods.
As part of this initiative, the foodservice division developed and introduced eggcentric entrées in a newly created Lowcountry Homemade Breakfast. The menu is impressive, starting with scrambled eggs made with Cheddar cheese, as the center-of-the-plate protein, and then offering a choice of biscuit or grits and a choice of bacon or sausage, along with fruit or juice. The students can also choose a breakfast that offers a choice among chicken biscuits, blueberry pancakes, French toast sticks or other assorted foods.
The Lowcountry Breakfast plate features traditional local breakfast options, representing favorite comfort foods enjoyed by both students and staff. Although the district had offered eggs on a limited basis previously, the new menu represents the first time the district offered a main entrée with eggs playing the starring role.
After thoroughly testing the new egg concept over the summer, the team rolled it out to the entire district this past fall, promoting it heavily to both students and parents via social media. Students and staff took to the new breakfast entrée immediately. Even though enrollment in the district is stagnant, participation or average daily participation (ADP) is up four to seven percent, with 15,500 breakfasts served daily.
Finding comfort in numbers
The secret to their impressive menu, with the district able to “over serve” a selection of breakfast options compared to minimum federal requirements, is a purchasing co-op. Nine districts participate in the co-op, with Charleston County taking the lead. This co-op provides the volume–$27.5 million in purchasing power–that the schools need to control food costs while serving their students and staff nutritious, filling and enticing entrées and sides. Regardless of a district budget however, eggs present any school foodservice program with an affordable protein option that’s easy to prepare and ideal as part of a balanced breakfast. Eggs are a perfect complement to any number of grains, fruits, vegetables or dairy products.
Staff engagement is another way the district was able to boost student meal participation. When the new menu was rolled out, the school staff started eating in the cafeteria alongside the students, enjoying the Lowcountry Breakfast offerings as much as anyone else. Seeing the staff involvement helped the students view the cafeteria offerings as “real food” worth eating and savoring.
The school staff and students all have more positive attitudes towards breakfast and the school cafeteria as a venue for interesting, comforting meals. As the nutrition team states, “We want them to want to come to the cafeteria, not just come because they have to.”
In addition to serving the Lowcountry Breakfast plate in the morning, the school offers it once per cycle for lunch. Demand was such that it rose to become one of the top three lunches in overall popularity. As a new entrée choice pitted against some popular favorites, this says a lot about the staff’s selection of options for the Lowcountry Breakfast plate. And for the record, the district reported using more than 28,300 pounds of eggs through November 2017.
Next up for the Charleston County school district? Protein kits featuring eggs! The district needs to help accommodate a student who has a medical issue with carbohydrates. The district plans to use this as a springboard of opportunity to provide low-carb protein kit options for other students as well. They are planning to test two versions of a low-carb protein box in a few pilot schools in the near future. We are eggcited to see how the students enjoy the new options provided to them by the foodservice staff in Charleston County. How could you “flip the script” on your school breakfast menu?
Breakfast Bars can provide students with a variety of customizable breakfast options to help fight menu fatigue and boost meal participation. Charleston County’s Lowcountry Homemade Breakfast bar is an eggcellent way to keep meal offerings fresh and students engaged in school breakfast and lunch!