Wyoming Elementary food service manager Patti Egelkraut knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and she was going to do everything she could to make sure that every student was fed and on time for school this year. The school needed a more efficient way to serve breakfast to students, many of whom would be tardy to class after eating breakfast or who would skip breakfast out of fear of being late.
“There really was no time to eat; it was always a rushed breakfast,” Egelkraut said.
Egelkraut completely revamped breakfast at the school, implementing a new “grab-and-go” style meal as opposed to a sit-down breakfast, which meant students could bring food to class.
“You know you’re feeding students; they’re getting a good start to their day of learning,” Egelkraut said.
The process for the restructure began with discussion among district principals about how to create a better breakfast experience for students. Wyoming Elementary School Principal Curt Slater visited an elementary school in Robbinsdale last year and saw how it utilized a cart system where students had a grab-and-go system.
“I just said, ‘Oh, my gosh, look at these kids. They’re going through the line,” Slater said. “I started asking the question, ‘What if we looked at a breakfast to-go so more kids had a chance to get a breakfast?’”
Slater said a similar system had been discussed amongst district principals, but that was more of a hybrid program between a standard breakfast and to-go. Once Slater saw the way the school in Robbinsdale was serving breakfast, he knew he wanted to try going to a 100 percent to-go option. He discussed the idea with Egelkraut and district food supervisor Kathy Hoff at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Over the summer of 2018, they began crafting a plan to pilot the grab-and-go meals at Wyoming Elementary. Instead of serving breakfast like they serve lunch, they prepared bags of food as far in advance as possible and then changed the serving line system. By the fall, they were ready.
“Of course I was nervous, thinking, ‘How is this going to go,’ especially since we’re the first school to try this, and it was a pilot program. So it was a little intimidating at first, but the more I looked at the menu, I thought, ‘We can do this,’” Egelkraut said.
The new structure cut down on serving time and in so doing also helped boost breakfast counts, something Slater and Egelkraut have been passionate about. Egelkraut had served typically 60 to 80 students every morning prior to the changes this year, and within the first week, the school was serving over 100. Throughout the year, those numbers skyrocketed past 200 students at an elementary school with roughly 600 students.
“Honestly, that first week even, our numbers were higher. It took us by surprise as well at how fast the breakfast line could go,” Egelkraut said. “On my side, I’d have these plastic lunch bags pre-assembled by us the day before with a juice box, appropriate silverware, and two wipes. I’d take that bag and put the breakfast sandwich in the bag and hand that to the student. Lines were still long — if it’s a poplar breakfast item day, they’d be standing in the hallway — but it was amazing how fast we could go through the line with that setup.”
Slater said making sure kids aren’t hungry while they’re learning is highly important, and this new breakfast is helping in that regard. For some students, it’s about having a snack available to get them through until lunch. For others, it’s about a better financial option for a healthy breakfast.
“The big thing is that it has given us options for kids that maybe we can’t figure out why they’re not ready for learning, and if it has to do with a balanced meal, we have some options to support that. It helps our families that already feel like going to get a healthy breakfast is too costly — we’re giving parents a really good value cost-wise if their child wants to eat breakfast,” Slater said. “I think it’s the hospitality at the school. If you’re hungry, let’s get your hunger under control so you can be ready to learn, because no child learns well when they’re hungry.”
For other students, Slater said, they’ll grab breakfast and save it for a snack to help tide them over until lunch.
“You think about it, and if those kids eat breakfast at 7:30 or 8 in the morning, and then their designated lunch time is at 1:30, that can be five or six hours they go before eating,” Slater said.
The work Egelkraut put in and her supportive attitude in a big change was why she was nominated by Hoff and awarded the Minnesota School Nutrition Association’s Innovation Award.
“She is always willing and ready to try something to make it better for the children,” Hoff said.
“She’s always been about making Wyoming an even better place, even though it might be more work. That’s what I appreciate about Patti — she doesn’t come to me with excuses; she’s always coming with solutions,” Slater said. “She is the full package deal.”
“It was exciting, and now a little embarrassing because attention’s on you. But it’s nice to be recognized, because there is hard work that goes into something like this,” Egelkraut said. “It also took custodial staff and teachers to be on board with this as well.”
Egelkraut will officially accept her award at the MSNA awards ceremony in August.