Share On Social!
San Antonio student Michaelie Love knows that, for many high school students, the hour before school begins is spent socializing or cramming for tests—not in the cafeteria eating a healthy breakfast.
Breakfast is included in the federal school nutrition program and is free or reduced-price for students who qualify. Latinos represent more than one-fifth of students participating in this federal program, but are they showing up for breakfast?
Health professionals say skipping breakfast before school can lead to poor academic performance and unhealthy over-eating later in the day.
Love wanted to make eating breakfast at school easy, healthy, and cool.
Breakfast Habits among Youth
The North East Independent School District (NEISD) is the second-largest school district in San Antonio with about 68,000 students, 58% of which are Latino.
Michaelie Love is a junior at NEISD’s International School of the Americas (ISA) magnet school at Lee High School. An active participant in multiple sports, she joined the Mayor’s Fitness Council Student Ambassadors program because she was passionate about making her school community healthier.
“Staying healthy through eating right and exercise is very important to me and I just wanted to spread that to others,” she said.
Each student ambassador is responsible for implementing a strategy at their school campus to improve physical activity or nutrition. With the help of a campus mentor and various training workshops throughout the school year, previous students have designed everything from a school-wide fun run to adding health tips to the daily announcements.
At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, Love began brainstorming how she could make a difference in nutrition at her school.
She learned more about her peers’ eating habits by surveying them in August 2014.
“I found that over a quarter of our school does not eat breakfast,” Love said.
Although the school offers a balanced breakfast in the cafeteria before the first bell rings, Love said her peers weren’t interested.
“The morning is time for you to hang out with your friends before you have to go into class, so you don’t want to have to spend time in the cafeteria,” she said.
Sharon Glosson, the NEISD executive director of nutrition services, said kids need a healthy breakfast.
“When they start their day hungry, then they’re not able to focus in class, and they have a hard time doing their best in class,” she said.
Love met with her Student Ambassador campus mentor, teacher Ashley Taplin, to brainstorm ways to make eating breakfast before school more appealing to her peers.
One idea was a mobile breakfast cart.
The cart could be stationed out where students congregate before school and offer healthy grab-and-go options like fruit or yogurt.
Love thought this idea was a winner, so she and Mrs. Taplin took the idea to the administration.
Getting Support for a Breakfast Cart
Because ISA is a magnet school within the campus of Lee High School, Love had to bring her breakfast cart proposal to both principals and vice principals.
“They loved the idea and sent us on to get it going,” Love said.
Her next task was to meet with NEISD School Nutrition Services. She learned that NEISD has breakfast carts at five elementary schools and two middle schools. According to the school district, some of the carts have 100-200 students grab breakfast each day.
Nutrition Services thought bringing the cart to a high school was a great idea and gave Love a breakfast cart for her school to use.
Next, she had to approach the cafeteria staff on campus because they would be the ones actually operating the breakfast cart.
“As soon as I introduced the idea, they were so excited,” she said.
There was a lingering question.
The Grab and Go Breakfast Program had been successful at elementary and middle schools, but would this success be replicated at a high school?
Getting a New Cart
Love continued to attend Student Ambassador meetings and workshops throughout early Spring 2015.
Meanwhile, the NEISD Nutrition Department and the Lee High School cafeteria had to formalize a menu and make sure the breakfast items served on the cart met nutrition standards.
“We do make sure that they all meet the federal meal program guidelines. They are different items, but they’re still going to be low in fat, low in sugar and whole-grain,” Glosson said.
On April 13, 2015, the grab-and-go breakfast cart was officially open for business with options like mini-pancakes, sausage and biscuits, yogurt, muffins or cereal along with fresh fruit and milk.
The next day, the school held a huge breakfast party to celebrate and advertise the new program.
The event had a drum line, mascots, and a prize wheel with soccer balls, jump ropes, pedometers and more—all to celebrate their hard work.
“After countless emails and meetings, we got it done, so that’s amazing!” Love said.
The Cart is Popular
Students now have the option to take breakfast to tutoring, extracurricular activities, or just to hang out with friends before class.
So far, the breakfast cart is a hit with students.
“I’ve had countless classmates come up to tell me that they got breakfast there that morning or to ask me what tomorrow’s hot meal will be,” Love said.
She also said that classmates say they love the variety of options offered.
“All in all I’ve gotten a really positive response from everyone who has gotten a chance to go,” she said.
Love is proud to attend a school that prioritizes health.
“Our cafeteria has great healthy choices with fresh fruits and vegetables; we have salads offered every lunch,” she said.
But there is always room for improvement.
Love said she is currently working to get a water bottle filling station installed at school. She is hopeful that the station will be completed this summer.
NEISD is excited to be testing the first breakfast cart at the high school level. Glosson said the grab-and-go food choices are a way of supporting the classroom through nutrition.
For Love, the project allowed her to directly impact people she cares about: her classmates.
“So many of them are now getting the food that they need to stay focused in class and to stay healthy,” she said.
Soon, hopefully, the breakfast cart craze will catch on at other high schools throughout the city and they’ll roll out their own health and delicious grab-and-go options, Love said.
By The Numbers
This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.