By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Students pouring into East Greenwich High School last Wednesday morning before 8 got an unusual welcome.
“Want to try a smoothie?” asked Susan Riley. Some students declined and hurried toward class, but others stopped in their tracks.
The smoothies – strawberry-banana with yogurt that day – are the centerpiece of the school district’s new “Grab-and-Go” breakfast program at the high school and Cole Middle School.
Riley, a parent member of the School Committee’s Health and Wellness Subcommittee, worked with Michele Edwards, food service manager for Aramark, the district’s food service provider, on a grant to improve breakfast offerings for the two secondary schools.
“It came about after a lot of brainstorming,” said Edwards.
“We’ve been talking about improving the nutrition in the schools,” said Riley. “We started with parfaits and some “grab & go” lunches at the lower schools. At the high school and middle school level, breakfast is just such a low priority. We were trying to figure out what we could bring in to garner a little more interest and be nutritious.”
They settled on smoothies and applied for a grant from the New England Dairy & Food Council and Fuel Up to Play 60, receiving $6,600 for the program.
“The Rhode Island Healthy Food Coalition just completed a study that talks about how breakfast is literally the most important meal of the day – it fuels the brain,” said Riley.
Students who eat breakfast do better in school and make fewer trips to see the nurse, said Edwards. And, she pointed out, when it comes to high school kids, it’s not about income. Even kids with refrigerators full of food at home will skip breakfast. Under this program, they can skid into school, grab a smoothie – or a bagel and juice, or a piece of fruit – pay a $1 and head to class. They don’t even need to go into the cafeteria anymore. Part of the grant money went toward buying equipment for the area just outside the cafeteria, making breakfast offerings fast and easy.
On Wednesday, the day the program was rolled out, three times as many students got breakfast at school, according to Aramark. One of those students was Vanessa DiMase, a sophomore.
“Normally I either don’t have breakfast or I’ll come here and get something. I don’t really have much time in the morning,” she said, holding a bagel with cream cheese, a banana and an orange juice (for a dollar!).
“Last year, there was only one option,” she said, surveying the new offerings. “This is a lot!”
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