Registered Dietitian and Marketing Coordinator Stefanie Dove, RDN, with the Department of School Nutrition Services at Loudoun County Public Schools talks about her job, the importance of school breakfast, and promoting health and wellness in this Q & A.
What is the role of a school nutrition marketing coordinator?
My role as marketing coordinator allows me to share the story of our School Breakfast Program through innovative marketing campaigns that target our students, parents, teachers, administration and community partners.
- Social Media Channels - I manage our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. You’ll find photos of the meals served daily, highlights of program achievements (such as serving 560,820 breakfasts since the beginning of the school year!), and information on how our program partners with our schools to promote nutrition and physical education.
- Nutrition Education Materials - I develop materials that teachers can use for nutrition education lessons and project-based learning programs and marketing materials for all special events and activities such Dr. Seuss’ birthday and National School Breakfast Week (this year’s theme is “I heart school breakfast.”)
- Community Partners - I work with community partners on various events and programs, such as Teen Cuisine, Farm to School, and PowerFuel program which provides meals to students at select sites all summer at no cost.
How does nutrition effect overall learning environments with your students?
When students are fueling their bodies, they are also fueling their minds. Studies show that an improvement in balanced meals impacts the cognitive ability of school-aged children. When students are receiving nutritious meals, their general health is better and they have fewer absences. Both educators and administrators have noticed that those students who begin their days well-nourished are more willing to actively participate in the classroom and can better retain the knowledge they are learning in the classroom.
Why should kids have breakfast at school?
If a child is receiving free or reduced school lunches, they also qualify for free or reduced breakfast at school. Eating breakfast at school solves a variety of obstacles that many families face when it comes to providing a nutritious breakfast to children, such as financial constraints or the hectic morning schedule.
Did you know? All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program also serve breakfast.
The school breakfast includes a variety of whole-grains, fresh fruit, 100% juice and low-fat and fat-free dairy options, providing children with the essential vitamins and minerals needed to promote growth and development.
How do you promote healthy breakfast strategies in your school?
By far, one of our most successful breakfast strategies is Breakfast After the Bell (also known as Second Chance Breakfast). The program gives students an additional opportunity for breakfast. We stock carts with nutritious breakfast options and, between 1st and 2nd blocks, in select middle and high schools, students can leave their classrooms to purchase breakfast to take back to class.
We implemented our first Breakfast After the Bell programs in January 2017 and saw an increase in breakfast participation of 215% after a single month in one of our schools.
Breakfast in the Classroom is what we use to encourage breakfast participation in Loudoun.
- Some of our schools use Grab N’ Go, where students go to the cafeteria, get their breakfast and take it to the classroom to eat.
- Still others are a traditional Breakfast in the Classroom, where the breakfast is delivered to the classroom and students enjoy their meal within the first few minutes of class.
When the majority of students in the classroom are eating together, enjoying breakfast at school becomes a regular part of the school day.
What are some of the most popular breakfast items offered at school
By far, smoothies, fruit and yogurt parfaits and breakfast sandwiches are some of the most popular breakfast items in all grade levels. The smoothies and parfaits come in a variety of options, so students don’t become tired of them.
In Loudoun County, we offer a variety of options to meet students’ needs. There are whole grain Benefit bars and fruit and yogurt smoothies for students who want something quick to take with them to class or to eat while chatting with their friends in the hallway. We also offer traditional breakfast staples, such as egg and cheese pitas and sausage and cheese croissant sandwiches for students who want to sit and enjoy a hot breakfast.
Our goal is to offer a variety of options so that students feel empowered to select what they will eat.
Are there any fun activities your school district is doing this year during National School Breakfast Week?
I designed Breakfast Week punch cards for our schools to hand out to students. Each morning when they come in for breakfast, the cashier will punch their card. Those students who have 5 punches at the end of the week can have their name entered in a drawing for prizes at their school.
Our newest middle school, Brambleton (BAM), is home to the bears. The School Nutrition Manager at that school developed a bear-themed menu for the week to include everything from bear toast to a BAM “Beary” Parfait. We are testing new menu items during the week such as a breakfast bowl that features egg, cheese, and potatoes in a tortilla bowl as well as breakfast pancake tacos.
How can a school district create breakfast excitement if they don’t have a Dietitian on staff?
- Forums of inspiration - I have found quite a bit of my inspiration for events from connecting with others on social media through various School Nutrition Facebook groups. These forums allow school nutrition professions to share ideas, ask questions, and provide resources.
- Parent/teacher participation - The easiest thing a district can do is work with their parents and teachers to help promote the program or event.
- Student involvement - We have had our students develop entire marketing campaigns for their school to promote National School Breakfast Week. They get excited to help and when they see their ideas implemented, it helps build support for the program.
- Creative garnish or transforming cut bananas into dolphins - encourages students to take more fruits and vegetables and also helps add a level of excitement to breakfast at school because those things are unexpected.
- Selfie frames – Selfie frames are a hit with students of all grade levels. They are easy to make and students know what to do with them. They’re a great way to drive traffic and excitement around school meals with minimal effort.
American Dairy Association North East is one of 16 state and regional promotion organizations working under the umbrella of the United Dairy Industry Association. It is the local affiliate of the National Dairy Council®, which has been conducting nutrition education and nutrition research programs since 1915. For more information, visit www.americandairy.com.