Communicating your school’s nutrition program effectively means reaching out to a number of key groups; not just students and their parents, but teachers, administrators, custodians, and the community at-large. At Beyond Breakfast we include a section on Promotions & Marketing in our Breakfast Resource Center to help you get started with your school breakfast program.
We recently sat down with Claudie Phillips, Director of Food & Nutrition Services in School District U-46 in Elgin, Illinois. District U-46 is one of the new districts who joined the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom this year, and Claudie is seeing great success—not just at breakfast, but in all areas of the district’s nutrition program. Part of her success can be credited to a comprehensive marketing program that both communicates her program’s message effectively, and also reaches out to all stakeholders and encouraging them to get involved.
Beyond Breakfast: Claudie, give us some background on how you got involved with Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, and then tell us about how you are using promotional materials in your program.
We were initially contacted by School Nutrition Foundation and asked if we would like to be a part of breakfast in the classroom, and I said “Yes!” When I discussed it with my bosses the two main concerns were whether we could accommodate it with our facilities and financial cost.
I’ve been with this school district for going on four years now. Part of my marketing strategy is total school and community involvement. We do a series of major marketing events every year, including contests.
One of our students was bringing their meals from home, and that student’s parent was drawing a character on his lunch bag every day. That student entered our book cover design contest, and got his parent involved in that process—the parent is an artist—and [as a result] we asked if that parent would do some work for us when we were trying to reimage our cafeteria. That parent drew our character, Captain Nutrition, for us. I worked with a graphic design company that put the finishing touches on—adding 3D, for example—and Captain Nutrition has become our mascot for promoting our program.
BB: We hear a lot about using contests as a marketing strategy—do you frequently employ that strategy at your schools?
Contests are excellent and the kids look forward to it every year. We cover every grade level, and make it part of an educational activity; even our kindergarten kids have to color the MyPlate graphic, and use their creativity to give answers about their fruits and vegetables, for example. We do a book cover design contest—students have to design a cover for a book that they would write about healthy eating or healthy living. We do a poster contest around the new dietary guidelines, and we also do an essay contest, and a video contest; we have great prizes to give [students who enter]. All of our marketing is funded by our Industry Advisory Council.
BB: Tell us about your breakfast-in-the-classroom planner.
The wellness planner that we developed [were distributed to] each of the teachers and principals, [as well as] our food service leaders and student advisory councils—most of our schools have student advisory councils, so students involved in the program receive a copy. It contains messages, teaches time management, and promotes breakfast, along with healthy eating and living.
BB: How do the promotional materials help you?
We decided that if we were going to do [breakfast in the classroom] there needed to be some planning to get the message out. We developed a banner initially, and that was the first thing we rolled out. Each school received a Captain Nutrition banner to be posted outside the school, to let parents know what was coming.
The banners were amazing! Captain Nutrition is used in everything we do—he’s our “spokesperson”. During the next part of the school year we are using a three-fold brochure that will be distributed to the parents starting in January .
We like to document what we do, and asked principals if we could use testimonials from the kids; we got testimonials from teachers as well. We had a deadline, so we couldn’t even include every single one we received! In the testimonials the students expressed how they felt about breakfast in the classroom and it was amazing how detailed some of them were; it confirmed what I knew—that kids want to have breakfast, and that they are appreciative of what we do to bring it to them.
Our highlight book is online, so you can go through what we do throughout the year.
BB: Can you talk a little bit about getting buy-in from teachers for breakfast in the classroom?
I had a teacher say that initially she was apprehensive about the program, but once she saw the benefits of [breakfast in the classroom] she was won over. She said the kids are being taught more than simply “eating breakfast in the morning” but they are also learning about being good citizens, about exhibiting good behavior in the classroom. The kids have a chance to socialize, but they also have to practice time management because they have to be finished by a certain time. Breakfast-in-the-classroom has many more advantages that one would think.
BB: What materials or strategies would you recommend to someone who is just getting started with BIC?
Our manual—the one with Captain Nutrition on the cover—was given to all the teachers, initially, and it showed them the responsibilities of all of the players on the team. This helped everyone know what their responsibilities are.
Any time you roll out a new initiative—large or small—if you give everyone the proper tools, and work out as many kinks prior to roll-out, nine times out of ten you will be successful. We tried to anticipate and address every potential question, concern, or issue that might come up prior to meeting with the principals and the teachers—the parents as well—because we wanted everything to be professional and user-friendly. And it worked! We even did a trial run before we rolled the program out in August. We did that so we could work any kinks out before school opened. The first few days were challenging, while everyone figured out how to manage their time.
Just the other day I was at a school where breakfast starts at 8:30 a.m. I got there at about 7:50 a.m., and the breakfast had already arrived at the teachers’ doors. I watched the whole process from start to finish, and by 9:20 the custodian was picking up the bags from the door. By 9:15 the foodservice lead had already completed entering her data, completed her production records, and begun her lunch tasks, and I was in my car by 9:30! And that school serves 400 kids.
Check back for Part Two of our interview with Claudie, where we take a look at how she markets her entire program, as well as learn about some great educational initiatives she has for parents and her foodservice staff!