Don’t miss Part One of our Breakfast in the Classroom Break interview with Dan Gorman, Food Service Director, Whitehall and Montague Schools, Michigan
Beyond Breakfast: When we met in Washington, D.C., you told me about your popular “Oatmealicious” program. Where did that come from?
Dan Gorman: The physical education teacher in that building also teaches a leadership class. She’s really focused on health and has done a lot with Fuel Up to Play 60. They were having a breakfast contest centered around how to feed oatmeal to kids. So this student came up with an idea to do oatmeal based on football teams—like the Blueberry Lions, where we would serve oatmeal with the blueberries in the shape of an “L” or the Chicago Razzberries and we arrange raspberries to make the “C”. She won the contest—a national contest! They flew her down to the Super Bowl in New Orleans with her mother on this amazing all-expenses paid trip, and she was on the football field during the Super Bowl! And that was all before we served a bowl of oatmeal—it was still just an idea.
BB: And the kids love oatmeal, is that right? It turns out to be incredibly popular with the students?
DG: My favorite thing is that with all of my years of experience I was pretty sure this was not going to work! The student won a trip to the Super Bowl so of course we had to try it, but I mean—kids don’t like oatmeal that much! And being a kid-executed program—in my head I had this chalked up to a failure. And it wasn’t!
BB: So what does breakfast service look like on an Oatmealicious day?
DG: My staff preps the ingredients, like the fruit toppings, and makes the oatmeal. The kids go through and get their oatmeal and then head over to a station where about a half-dozen students are working, putting toppings on the oatmeal. It’s kind of like a Subway. In this building we were doing about 70 breakfasts a day, and on oatmeal day we peaked around 130. And it’s oatmeal! Did I point out—it’s oatmeal?!
BB: I was watching the video you sent me with a friend, and we were both amazed—the kids are genuinely excited about oatmeal. Why do you think they are so excited about, well, oatmeal?
DG: I think a lot of it was that the program was created by a student, and it’s something different–they have a choice. The student teams who run it will do the marketing, like hanging signs.
One of my favorite anecdotal stories happened when I was up by the office one day and a little girl walked in and I overheard her say, “Oh good, it’s oatmeal day!” For me as a foodservice director, I win! If I have kids coming in saying, “Oh, good, it’s oatmeal day!” I have accomplished my job.
BB: We see this all the time—when we ask kids to get involved in the process, whether it’s breakfast or lunch, they get really engaged. Kids want to give their opinions.
DG: Getting kids involved and getting them engaged is the answer! If you give students ownership it makes a difference; they start eating healthier and they’ll try other things, whether you’re talking about a school garden or Farm-to-School or they are cooking. That’s a lot of my focus.
We just received a grant. In this building next year a class is going to own a day each day for breakfast, and we are going to do garden boxes in the classroom where they are going to grow fresh herbs. One class will do breakfast burritos, another will do sandwiches, another smoothies, another parfaits, and so each classroom on their day will come in early, help prep the food, and execute getting it to all the classrooms. There is a composting team that will collect and sort. So on that day that class, that first hour, will all be focused around breakfast. Whatever goes into a breakfast burrito is what they come up with, and the kids can do surveys, tally whose breakfast goes over best, and ask what other things we can do. It will be interesting to see how that changes the engagement level with kids having choices.
BB: We always like to ask if you have any tips or best practices to share with your school nutrition colleagues when it comes to serving school breakfast.
DG: The best thing for elementary schools is breakfast-in-the-classroom. It reduces the most barriers, and that’s always the best answer to doing school breakfast. If you have principal support it makes it easy, but if you don’t I recommend getting the support of a couple of teachers and doing a pilot. I push a lot of things through by saying, “Let’s do a pilot!” I usually get one really responsive teacher and then I look for the teacher who is a critic, or someone who doesn’t want to do it as much—you talk them into doing it for a short amount of time as a pilot. Be realistic about it—it is more work for a teacher. When you have a teacher’s voice who will support it, that is when you can get other things done. When it’s just you, it’s more difficult.
BB: Principal champions and teacher champions make such a difference. We hear that time and again. Do you have any other creative school nutrition programming you want to share with us?
DG: We have a program here in our state called “Cultivate Michigan.” It focuses on locally-grown foods throughout the year, and encourages institutions to serve them. We have worked with our local career tech center where they have a culinary program. We worked with them around Cultivate Michigan, and three times a year we will develop a recipe with them we can use in schools.
The kids at the career tech center develop recipes, then we pick two of them and they come into our kitchens and produce it, and then do taste tests in all eight of our buildings. We did winter squash in November; the students came up with a black bean butternut squash salsa and it was awesome! That was my Christmas dish for like two of my Christmas parties!
You’re talking about [students] doing 2,000 taste testing servings, and processing something crazy like eighty pounds of diced butternut squash. It’s a win for the culinary kids because they get to create something and take it to execution, and do it in bulk. It’s simpler to make one plate that someone is going to eat right away, but we’re talking about making 2,000 servings that you are going to make in one location, finish at another, and hold the food—they have to know how to do that, and what the food will look like at the end of that process.
Then the kids come out and execute the dish, which gives them these real world [situations]—you forgot the Solo cups, so what are you going to put the food in? We forgot about this utensil, what do we need to do? A lot of skills those kids need. My students get to try new foods and go home with the recipe for their families—it’s just a great program and we love being a part of it.