Breakfast Operations


In every district, the variety of school building types, age, and access means that there may be as many customizations to breakfast operations as there are schools. The overarching goal is to create efficiency by implementing standard operating procedures and menu cycles, as well as adequate staff training in breakfast procedures and the importance of breakfast. Delivering a cohesive, organized breakfast plan to the district decision makers is imperative to success. Use our Breakfast Assessment Tool to compile all the key school building information in one place, which will guide you through the decision-making process. For example, based on the projected participation, which sites will require additional refrigeration? How many classrooms, hallways, stairways are there? 

Assessing each location’s needs allows you to identify building challenges, schedule issues, and needed infrastructure improvement like electricity for refrigeration. You may have sites where traditional breakfast is the only option. In those cases, are there bus drop-off issues; is the cafeteria space used before school for other programming; and how early is your staff currently arriving at the site? All of this information is critical in developing an effective plan and the eventual success of your breakfast program.

Equipment and Smallwares

To launch traditional breakfast in the cafeteria, you may not need any additional equipment, but for alternative breakfast implementation, most districts will need to purchase some supplementary equipment and smallwares. Grants such as FuelUp to Play 60, Action for Healthy Kids, or Kellogg School Breakfast Grants ma also provide funds or equipment.Take the time to read through our Alternative Breakfast Equipment Guide, which describes the most common choices for various service models and can help determine district-wide equipment needs based on each school’s criteria.

Depending on the alternative model chosen—Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) vs. Grab ‘n Go—there are unique factors to consider. When addressing these factors through the equipment guide, keep in mind that creative approaches can provide solutions for a sustainable alternative breakfast model. For example, we’ve seen Red Flyer wagons and suitcase dollies used to move BIC meals. Likewise, Grab ‘n Go setups can vary from folding tables and food service carts to mobile salad bar units or even mechanically cooled and heated service stations that live near key intersections in larger school buildings.

Menus and Food

Take a look at breakfast menus in many districts today, and you’ll see all sorts of packaged pancakes and waffles that are pre-sweetened with maple-flavored corn syrup and sometimes even served on a stick like a corndog. The prevalence of convenience foods is not surprising, especially if you consider these challenges: 

  • Labor allocated to breakfast is typically small, especially given the restricted budget and bandwidth.
  • Budget for breakfast food costs is modest, with most districts trying to keep food cost averages for all meal components under $0.90. Reimbursement for breakfast in school year 2018-19 ranged from $0.31 for non-eligible students to $2.14 for free-eligible students, depending on whether the school qualifies as “severe need.” 
  • Nutrition requirements like the USDA requirement to serve a cup of fruit or vegetable daily. Juice is also limited under the USDA guidelines and no longer counts as a full serving of fruit. Consequently, many districts are pairing juice with a half cup of fresh, canned, or dried fruit.
  • Waste is a big concern and it is a valid one, so efficiency in breakfast becomes paramount. 

So with these challenges, how can we offer breakfasts--either in the cafeteria or in the classroom--that are cost-effective, attractive to students, and meet the guidelines? 

Traditional Breakfast

For traditional breakfast, reducing waste by limiting over-production is critical to controlling costs. Instead of offering four choices, try offering two: a hot and a cold choice. Cold choices like cereal are helpful, because the product is not wasted. Hot cereal choices like an oatmeal bar with toppings can be cost effective. House-made breakfast burritos are also a cost-effective choice for the cafeteria since they can be assembled on demand to reduce waste. We also see both pre-made and scratch prepared burritos offered in classroom breakfasts. When considering breakfast, each district has to develop a menu that works with the skill set of the team, physical limitations of school buildings, and the taste preferences of the students.

Classroom Breakfast

Classroom breakfast menus are usually simpler. If the breakfast is Grab ’n Go, there may be more than one choice, but delivered breakfast is typically planned as a complete meal with no choice. It may also be presumed to be “offer vs. serve.” If you want to reduce mass-produced ready-to-eat foods, working with local food companies can be an excellent solution. We have seen successful relationships for school-delivered fresh bagels and muffins created to the district’s specifications by local bakeries, and local companies producing breakfast burritos and granolas.

Because breakfast eaten in the classroom is most often served as a complete meal (meaning there's no offer vs. serve), some districts allow students to save the fruit component to eat later. Depending on the reception of classroom breakfast in your district, this may or may not be an option. However, it’s becoming a popular option, as many teachers acknowledge that students learn better if they aren’t hungry. This also helps reduce waste.

Menus Cycles

Explore breakfast menu cycles developed by us and by districts around the country in our Menu Cycles section.


The impact of breakfast on your current labor model will vary depending upon your operational model, breakfast model, bell schedules, service hours, and historical labor assignments at the sites. 

Our Meals Per Labor Hour Worksheet is a useful tool to outline your labor baseline. Any time your program changes, it is important to review the impact as part of the planning process. Depending on how much labor is attributed to the site before expansion, adding breakfast may or may not require additional labor. Reorganizing start and exit times, adding an hour or two, and occasionally hiring additional personnel are all options but need to be vetted against current labor assignments and expected workload of the expansion.

When calculating a meal equivalent to evaluate Meals Per Labor Hour (MPLH), we typically assign BIC at 2:1, or two breakfasts equal one meal equivalent. This is because it requires more labor if the foodservice staff is solely responsible for pack-out, delivery, pick-up, and data entry. Traditional Breakfast or Grab ‘n Go would be factored at 3:1, three breakfasts equal one meal equivalent. When determining labor requirements, MPLH analysis should be considered in the context of other practical considerations of the site, such as facility limitations and bell schedules that create gaps in service.

Standard Operating Procedures

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for breakfast service must be articulated for the particular service model and updated as part of the department’s SOPs. For example, handling leftovers in classroom breakfast and the proper set-up of Grab ‘n Go should each have a SOP. Food ordering, menu cycles, recipes, production records, and accountability procedures are all part of the school site team’s responsibilities and should all have SOPs. Here is a sample Breakfast SOP  from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction School Nutrition Team.

Breakfast After the Bell! Appleseed

Appleseed helps bring better grades, behavior, and health to over 60,000 NM children with Breakfast After The Bell legislation.


Visit our Breakfast Tools & Resources page for worksheets, calculators, signage, guides, and more.

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