School Breakfast Strategy: Scratch Cooking

A common refrain we hear when talking about breakfast-in-the-classroom is, “If only there were more freshly-prepared foods!” It’s true that scratch and speed-scratch cooking can be a challenge when menuing for breakfast-in-the-classroom, but it’s not impossible.

Looking for more information on scratch and speed-scratch cooking at school breakfast, we registered for a USDA FNS webinar called “Learn New School Breakfast Strategies with the Champions of Breakfast,” featuring winners from the 2017 “Champions of Breakfast” awards in the Western Region. One of the presenters on that webinar was Sally Spero, Director of Child Nutrition in Lakeside Union School District (CA). After hearing Spero present information on how to increase speed-scratch cooking at school breakfast, we wanted to learn more. Here are lightly edited excerpts from our conversation.

BB: Can you give us a bit of a “snapshot” of Lakeside USD?

SS: We’re a small district with nine schools. We’re serving “second chance” breakfast at three of those locations, including a Provision 2 elementary school.

BB: How did you determine which campuses to implement “second chance” breakfast?

SS: All three schools have a high number of free-and-reduced price-eligible students, and only a few of them were able to get to [regular] breakfast service before school.

BB: How did adding ‘Second Chance’ breakfast affect participation?

SS: It’s pretty dramatic! We will serve anywhere between 100 and 250 extra breakfast at our second chance schools. In our district we have one day a week when kids are dismissed early for teacher meetings; on ‘minimum day’ we don’t serve second chance because there isn’t time before lunch starts—it’s easy for me to tell how many fewer kids eat on the days without second chance.

BB: We loved your webinar presentation on scratch and speed-scratch cooking at breakfast. Why is scratch and speed-scratch preparation so important?

SS: Scratch cooking is something we are passionate about at Lakeside. It’s a process we’ve been working on for five years. First, there is the difficulty of finding acceptable products. Second, [they] are cost-saving measures. If you’re using commodities, you can save a lot. For example, if you buy frozen muffins you’re in the 55-60 cent range; if you purchase ingredients and make muffins it’s much less—maybe a third of the cost–and then you have that money available to pay labor.

BB: Who works on recipes? What are some student favorites?

SS: We have two chefs here, and our executive chef says, “There’s no glory in heating up frozen food!” It’s nice for our employees, who have that satisfaction of making food the kids enjoy. Breakfast sandwiches are so simple—it’s just ham or a sausage patty, cheese, and egg patty, and it all goes on a bagel. It’s not more complicated than putting a hamburger together for lunch, and it’s so much fresher and nicer for the kids. And it’s less expensive for us!

The kids really like breakfast sandwiches—the line is out the door! We developed an egg-and-cheese sandwich by taking our cheese omelet, which does come in bulk, and heating those up, then putting them on a hot dog bun. It’s really simple, and you can add meat like bacon or ham. We also make our own egg-and-cheese patties with commodity eggs and cheese; we just pour those into the pan, cook them off, cut them into squares, and put the squares on a bun with a sausage patty—that one is our most popular breakfast sandwich. The kids also like our half-bagel with a slice of cheese and a slice of bacon folded in half, and we do vegetarian [versions], too. It’s been so easy—anyone can do it.

BB: What other menu items are you making in-house?

SS: A year-and-a-half ago I hired a baker. I couldn’t get the quality of pastry I wanted—not just for breakfast, for everything. We have been working from the ground up; it’s been a journey. Over time she has developed recipes we serve at breakfast, like banana bread, a biscuit, and a simple crumb cake. All of these items are prepared fresh, and when you think about how much processed food kids eat it’s nice to have scratch options.

Looking for more information on scratch cooking? Check out these links below:

The following Resource Guide links were provided on the above-referenced USDA webinar:

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