Revered by many as the most important meal of the day, breakfast was just kind of an afterthought at Winnacunnet High School, Hampton, NH. All that has been changing, through efforts by Ryan Costigan, school nutrition director and Jim McAden, chef, Winnacunnet High School, Hampton, NH.

“We hear the same clichés about breakfast that everyone hears, but the more I research, the more I see all those things are true: getting a good breakfast does help the students learn and make it through their day better,” Costigan says.

It can be a balancing act to make all the breakfast menu items from scratch while following the guidelines and never sacrificing the flavor, he adds, but, “We feel paying attention to breakfast and making it more of a priority is important.”

The old breakfast menu leaned heavily on a lot of frozen and prepackaged breakfast items, something Costigan and McAden began changing at the beginning of this school year and implemented in November.

“We’re lucky that we have a chef here who can cook raw ingredients from scratch,” Costigan says.

The revamped menu features a lot of a la carte items such as house-made muffins (Chef Jim is there at 6 a.m. every day, baking about five or six dozen muffins); oatmeal, smoothies, fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, juice and milk.

Weekly specials, like the Warrior Scramble (see recipe) have been very popular and garnered a lot of good feedback, McAden says.

“I created the Warrior Scramble to incorporate fresh eggs, spinach, cheese, potatoes and caramelized onions,” he says.

The cafeteria started offering Green Mountain coffee as well, which has been a big hit with the students, many of whom used to go out for Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts instead.

The presentation of the breakfast items now is “more comfortable café, less industrial-style,” Costigan says. For example, muffins are piled into baskets.

In addition to the new menu, students are now given more time to get breakfast, just fifteen minutes earlier than before, at 7:15 instead of 7:30 (classes start at 7:45), but that has made a difference in getting more students and staff interested in grabbing a quick, nourishing breakfast.

Breakfast participation has definitely gone up, but it’s difficult to get a true picture, because most breakfast products are sold a la carte. About 1,200 students attend Winnacunnet High School, and only a small percentage get breakfast (80 breakfasts per day, not counting a la carte items sold, was the average for December), but Costigan and McAden are hoping to build momentum over time.

“A muffin and coffee doesn’t equal a reimbursable meal so it’s tough to measure that in terms of a full meal,” Costigan says, adding that it’s a $1.25 for a muffin, juice and banana, and students are encouraged to take three components and meet meal requirements.

The addition of smoothies to the breakfast menu helped with the requirements. Made with nonfat Greek yogurt, fruit and fat-free milk, the smoothies hit two components (meat alternative and fruit) and then students can add a grain component to make a meal.

While a director must keep an eye on numbers, Costigan doesn’t want to stop the focus on breakfast.

“I want to follow through and continue to move ahead with breakfast. Looking at these numbers won’t tell the whole story,” he says. “I want to get the kids to get used to having a good breakfast available and make it a habit.”