Be Informed!

The First Class Breakfast Program is being implemented in schools all over Houston. I am a very involved parent, but I have only one experience to share and one point of view. In an effort to share information and inform parents, I welcome comments and guest posts!

Forward this to all who might be interested. You need to be informed and aware of what is happening in your schools.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

What's on the breakfast menu for the Fall?

Sorry to have been absent for so long, but my family had a personal issue that needed addressing, so I took a break and devoted my time to focus on that.  In my absence and with summer vacation in full swing now, I hope you haven't lost interest.

Let's get back to the topic you want to hear about - What can you look forward to this fall? 

When I attended the Food Services Parent Advisory Committee at the end of the school year, we had a chance to preview the planned lunch menus for the Fall.  We talked about specific things that were being done well and areas that still needed improvement, then worked in smaller groups to brainstorm how to improve on the perceived "problem areas".  I think a lot of great ideas came out of the meeting and hope to have a chance to work together and make some progress before the school year starts again.
**disclaimer - all the menus I have seen are not yet approved.  The food items and changes mentioned below are planned but not guaranteed to be on the menu for the Fall.  Menus will be finalized later this summer**

First the good news!
More of the food will be prepared in the Food Service Facility (sometimes this means it is actually made there and sometimes it is just packaged there)
Yogurt parfaits with fresh fruit and cereal or granola. 
NO PORK - the pork kolache from the spring is replaced with an all beef version
More fresh fruit - bananas and fresh (sliced) oranges are planned
Plans to introduce a breakfast burrito
No more Grilled Cheese sandwhich!
Fewer days where milk AND juice are served (hopefully less waste?)
Fewer animal crackers!
They are trying hard to source another provider to ELIMINATE the Trix Yogurt

And a bit of bad news (but not as much)
Still lots of meals with cheese on the sandwhich, or multiple dairy items (sorry kids with dairy allergies)
Gone are the whole grain mini pancakes.  These were a hit with some kids (my son!), but because these are a purchased item and not made in the facility, they are planned to be eliminated.

Like I mentioned (see disclaimer above) these are tentative plans and nothing is set in stone yet.  Overall it seems like the menu is headed in the right direction, but as always, there is still room for improvement. 

Thanks to the staff at food services for listening to us when we say we want healthier fresh meals and fewer processed foods.  Let's hope they keep listening.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What do you want to see on the menu?

Next week the Food Services Parent Advisory Committee will be meeting again to discuss menu selections for the Fall.

I have asked this of fellow parents in my school, but I would like to know from you as well. 

1. What food items would you really like to see gone from the menu? 
2. What suggestions do you have for healthy new additions? 

Answer either question for the breakfast or lunch menu and I'll take some of your suggestions to the meeting next week.  Send me an email or leave a comment below.

I also plan to report back on some changes happening with the breakfast menu for the Fall.  I heard some exciting possibilites for more items made fresh in the Food Services Facility rather than manufactured products purchased from food for next Fall, but some of the details are still being worked out.

Check back late next week for an update.  As things happen or news comes out in the summer, I'll be here to keep you informed. 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day 9 - Last Day of School

I have no photos today.  Things are always a bit different on the last day and it is no different in the blog world. 

As you can imagine and probably experienced yourself today, the last day of school is not normal.  Breakfast was still served as usual.  Breakfast was an Oatmeal bar and a banana, with juice and milk.  Some kids ate some kids didn't.  There was an experiment in the Kindergarten classroom, though.  Since this was a pretty quick easy to eat meal, the kids did a free draw exercise while they were eating.  Unfortunately there were quite a few spills and messes to clean up.  They probably will go back to just eating and not getting started with lessons until after breakfast.  It may take longer, but the time they saved by multi-tasking was lost because of the extra cleanup.

So what do your kids do during breakfast?  Are there activities that can be done while eating that don't result in messes? 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

So what do we do about it?

I have received a lot of emails from parents that don't want this program at their school becuase they don't want the lost class time and they don't want their kids eating the food.  These are all valid objections, but it won't keep the program out of your school. 

First, we must all realize that this program IS coming to your school if it isn't already there. No parent or principal has been able to prevent it (yet) and some schools have certainly tried. The best thing you can do as a parent is to work together, through the PTO or shared decision making committees at your school, talk with the Principal and HISD Food Services about alternatives to strict classroom delivery and see what else might make sense for your campus.  You have the opportunity to request the best delivery method of the breakfast that meets the needs of the students and the desires of the parents at their campus.

So here are some action items for you:

If you just don't want your child to eat breakfast at school, there are two options.
1. Kids can just say no thanks. Your child can simply not take a breakfast meal when it is delivered to the classroom. 
2. Parents can say no thanks. If an Opt-out form is not readily available at your school, write a letter to the Principal and your child's teacher to inform them that you do not want your child eating the breakfast that is being served.  Schools are dealing with this differently, so check with yours on the best way to handle this.

Teachers will have additional activities available for the kids who choose not to eat. It may be reading, journaling or doing other exercises, but there is generally something constructive that can be done during this period of time.

If you object to the lost class time, there are many opportunities to develop a program to deliver breakfast at your school that minimizes the impact on class time. The delivery method that is suggested by Food Services as being the fastest is not the least disruptive to the class. The fastest time they are referring to may be the actual delivery time at the door, it may refer to feeding the largest number of kids in the shortest amount of time, I'm not sure. The 10 minutes that was promised when the program was first introduced is really more like 20-30 depending on the grade level.

There are examples of other schools that are making breakfast available at the classroom, but the largest number of participating children are still eating in the cafeteria as has always worked for schools in the past. The model at Roberts Elementary is one that seems to be working well.  There are delivery models in other schools that I have heard of, but don't have a first hand description yet, so I can't really explain the logistics of them here. 

The point is to find out what is needed and desired by parents at your school and work with Food Services to make it happen.  Prior to the launch at your school a team from HISD Food Services will visit with your Principal and cafeteria staff to determine what your school needs and what will work best for your campus.  Don't hesitate to ask for alternatives if the classroom delivery of breakfast doesn't fit your needs.  Flexibility is an option!  Dr. Grier said in his statement on March 24 that "principals and teachers in each school have the complete freedom to design their program to meet the needs of students in their school".  There is no reason to believe otherwise.

A few days ago, I would have also suggested that you contact the representative for your district to let them know of your objections.  It won't affect the implementation at your school.  You can certainly still do that to let them know how you feel about the program so they may think twice and ask for more parental input before voting to implement something that has such a dramatic effect on our children's school day.  If you would still like to contact the HISD Board, all of their email addresses are listed here.

When it all comes down to it, the best thing you can do is to get involved at your school.  Know what is going on.  Join the PTO, talk to your teachers and administrators and most of all, the other parents.

Day 7 - (Turkey) Sausage Biscuit and Scrambled Eggs

Only one entree went unopened today.  Still lots of milk and the amount of unopened juice is increasing too.  I asked my son how he liked breakfast this morning and he said it was good.  The scrambled eggs weren't as good as his Dad's, but he really like the sausage biscuit.  When I asked what his friends ate, he said some really didn't like it, but others ate it all.  Looks like this meal is a good one.

Milk - 47
Juice - 12
Sausage biscuit - only 1!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A mom in favor of the breakfast program

I have (1) child in Rucker Elementary age 4, (1) child in Stevenson Middle School age 12 and (1) child in Milby High School age 17. I'm very glad that the schools are implementing this program for our children. As you can see I am a busy mother and I am having to drop them off in the morning at 3 different grade schools plus try to make it on time every morning to work myself. So some of us parents don't have the time to make breakfast for our children every morning. My biggest concern is the waste of food that is having to be thrown away because the children either are not hungry or are very picky eaters and that besides the food that the school provides, is not good. I say this, because this is an issue that I hear from my kids way too often. I don't like to discourage my kids and I tell them that they don't appreciate what is given to them for free. Growing up with 7 in the family, you bet we were hungry when we got to school and we took what ever was given to us, including and especially the milk. If the parents are picky and complain, then the kids will too. I take blame for that in a sense that I have only exposed the foods I liked and therefore cook for them. I've opened my taste buds to more out there now that I'm older and well now I'm suffering the consequences of my kids not wanting to eat the school provides. The only difference with the food then and the food now, is that we use to actually have real people in the kitchen cooking meals especially for lunch. So from what the kids tell me, much of the food that is given to them is frozen food. A thought of mine would be for the board to take into consideration what the kids like to eat so that they're won't be too much wasted.

Maria Luna

Day 6 - Maybe the kids are getting tired of animal crackers?

In an interesting turn of events today more entrees were eaten than animal crackers.  Animal crackers have been served 3 times in the last week.  This is a common menu choice because they are fortified with iron and this is a way to satisfy the USDA requirement with a food item that kids will readily eat.  I must admit that I have tasted the Kolaches when I attended one of the First Class Breakfast informational sessions and they are really pretty good.  They are baked from scratch in the HISD Food Service Facility and made with whole grain flour.  I actually saw them being mixed, assembled and baked when I toured with a group last week.  Unfortunately, they are the ONLY breakfast item that contains pork, but there is a committment to provide a no-pork-kolache for breakfast next year. 

Here is today's photo and trash count

For 5 Kindergarten classes:

Animal Crackers-25

Comments from HISD Board of Education Trustee, Anna Eastman

My name's Anna Eastman and I'm the Board of Ed trustee from District 1. First, I am all about using vehicles like this blog to push us to pay attention and enable us hear from folks throughout HISD. I know First Class Breakfast has been a frustration for many. It was planned for roll out when I joined the board in January. I have been involved in working to increase the quality of food HISD serves our kids for years. I have three children in HISD and have seen some positive movement by Aramark as a response to parental vision and concern.

First, I'd like to comment on the concerns around flexibility and how the program is implemented in each school. I originally was skeptical about how this could be done efficiently, but heard positive reviews from a group at a school in my district early in the spring (it has not been implemented at in either of my children's schools yet). The set up sounded similar to the one you describe at Roberts Elementary. They have hosted several groups to observe the process. Parents and teachers alike were pleasantly surprised to find that the program has allowed for a quieter, calmer start to the day and a more focused later morning.

Second, I am all for replacing the processed, prepackaged choices (uncrustables, animal cookies and trix yogurt specifically) with items made in our facility or at the very least healthier options. Aramark has said they are working to make that happen. To their credit, they have removed the flavored milks and pop-tarts in a timely manner. I look to the Food Services PAC to continue to inform them *and me* for future planning and will personally continue to do so in my role as a board member.

I think the posts here sum up the problems and plusses in your schools, as well as provide a historical and current perspective from 20,000 foot level. After having supported work to increase the nutritional value of our food service, I am pleased to see this conversation taking place. I don't foresee the ability for a school to opt out of First Class Breakfast entirely; but do know there are flexible models being implemented throughout the district. I will advocate for increased food quality and work to see that the successful examples are communicated before the start of school next year so all communities can be proactive to protect learning time in the classroom and your school's personality, while making sure we have much needed nourishment available to kids. I'm convinced that there are many, many children in our midst who would benefit from this done well.

Anna Eastman
HISD Trustee, District 1

Welcome Readers!

If you are hear because of the recent mention in the Chronicle School Zone blog, welcome!  I'm so glad to see that this little blog, started only a week ago is getting attention outside of our school and area of town.  If you are already participating in the program, I would love to hear how things are going in your school and share that information with other concerned parents.  Many of the readers are parents at schools who have yet to implement the program and are desperately looking for answers and solutions for concerns that they have.  Please share your experiences and send me an email at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Breakfast Service at Herod Elementary

There was a very good description of the program implementation at Roberts Elementary a few days ago.  Some people have requested a similar description of the progam at Herod.  It is quite different.

Herod chose to implement the program in its purest form.  Delivery of breakfast to the classroom.  This is the "Guaranteed Delivery Method" that was proposed by Aramark and is said to be the "fastest" way to deliver the meal in order to provide the least classroom disruption. 

Most classes at Herod are finished with all breakfast service and cleanup by 8:15.  20 minutes after the school day begins.  Kindergarten classes take longer.  My son's class was finished and ready to start the day this morning at 8:30.

Here is a description of the morning delivery in a typical Kindergarten class:
The layout of the Herod Campus is such that two grade levels occupy a single wing of the building, K and 1st together, 2nd and 3rd, and the two upper grades are housed in temporary buildings.  Each hallway is served by two food service carts that serve from 5-6 classrooms.  Each cart has a warm and cold compartment to keep food at the proper temperature.  Before service begins, teachers receive supplies of a trash bag, napkins and straws, as well as the cards for each student.  Carts begin serving at 7:55 and move from room to room so some classes are served later than others.  Those that have opted to not eat go to their desks first and either read or begin an activity that has been placed at their desk. The remaining children (about 2/3 -1/2 of the class) then get in line for their food as breakfast cards are passed out.  When the cart arrives, they drop the card into a bag hanging from the cart and are handed a meal.  This service takes from 3-5 minutes per classroom.  They eat at their desk and are given assistance with opening packages, etc. as needed. When all the children have been given their meal and are seated, I set a timer for 10 minutes. Quiet eating time is encouraged so that they are actually eating instead of visiting. If there is an item that they do not want, they place it at the top of their desk and it is collected and set aside. When the ten minutes is up the I go around and collect trash and we clean up any spills that occur. All total we spend 25-30 minutes on the breakfast process before starting the day's studies.

I hope you find this description helpful.  If your school has implemented the program, please leave a comment or email and let us know how it is working in your school.  The more information we have, the better our chances of making the program work in our schools.