One of Anthony Geraci's first initiatives when he took over as head of the child nutrition program for the Baltimore City Public Schools was to change the breakfast program. While he had to wait a year for existing contracts to expire in the lunch program, the breakfast program deal was up for renewal.
“I zeroed in on that,” he says. “I worked with an industry partner to create little breakfast boxes with the lowest sugar content cereal I could find on the market, 100% juice and a whole grain snack.”
For extra kid appeal, about one in 20 of the packages also contains prizes, a “Happy Meal idea” Geraci says he took from McDonald's. Prizes include MP3 players and tickets to local sporting events, thanks to partnerships Geraci struck with the town's popular professional sports teams, the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL and Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles.
“I partnered with the Ravens and Orioles because I wanted the kids to have different role models,” he says. “For one thing, there's the connection between nutrition and athletic performance. Also, these great athletes on these teams didn't become great athletes by accident. They worked at it. These are readily accessible heroes I can bring to my kids.”
The result was the Breakfast With the Birds program, which brings several Ravens or Orioles once a month to the school with the highest breakfast participation the previous month to have breakfast with the kids.
“It gave the teams an opportunity to connect with their fans and gave the kids an opportunity to meet their heroes,” says Geraci. “And it gave us all an opportunity to have a conversation about nutrition and starting the day off right with a good breakfast.”
The lesson must have sunk in. Breakfast participation shot up in the first two months of the program last fall from about 7,500 a day to 40,000.