Free monthly breakfast to highlight school's program

Beginning today all St. Marys Area School District students have the opportunity to enjoy a free breakfast once a month as part of an effort to promote the district's breakfast program as well as raise awareness about the importance of starting each day with a health meal.SMASD Food Service Director Jennifer Asti said the monthly free breakfasts will continue throughout the remainder of the school year and will be held the last Thursday of each month, unless that date falls on a school holiday when it will be bumped up a week.To kick off the free breakfast program, today's meal consisted of blueberry waffles. "This will give us an opportunity to educate people about our breakfast program, what we have - it isn't just cereal and milk - we have a lot of hot breakfast and also stress the importance of children eating before school because studies show there's more attention, they're better at math, behaviors are decreased, things like that," Asti said.Among the current breakfast offerings are hot foods including breakfast pizza made with sausage, eggs and cheese and is a popular choice among students, waffles/waffle sticks, pancakes, sausage, ham/egg/cheese on English muffin and hot mini cinnamon rolls."A lot of the kids prefer a hot breakfast over cereal, milk and fruit, which we also have. They can choose some of the cold items as well," Asti noted. The schools also offer milk and fruit juice and grab and go items such as fruit, whole grain cinnamon rolls, cereal bars, yogurt with granola in a cup. The breakfast kits, which include a cereal, mini graham crackers, fruit cup and bottle of milk all packed in a bag, are popular with older students due to their easy accessibility.Asti explained the purpose behind starting to offer free monthly breakfasts came from an endeavor held last spring throughout the district. In March elementary students were permitted to bring a special guest with them to share breakfast together before the start of the school day, while in May middle and high school students were treated to a free breakfast buffet."It was so popular, especially the special guest days at the elementary schools, that we took that opportunity to put out educational materials out about breakfast and everything," Asti said. "It was a really wonderful thing, the kids were so excited. They'd come in even earlier than usual because they wanted to show their guests where they get in line, where they punch their lunch ID number in. It was a lot of fun."A grant from the Pennsylvania Dairy Association in combination with Project PA in which Asti received $500 per school helped in offsetting the cost of the meals. As requirement of the grant were that schools had to provide a healthy breakfast, create ways to promote it and submit a report on their event in June. Asti said since then she had been trying to think how the district could repeat the project, as the grant is no longer available. Expenses for the free monthly breakfasts will be absorbed into the cafeteria budget.