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Cafeteria Research Project Report

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This report describes the research project I conducted to determine if a survey would provide data that could be used to increase the average daily participation rate of the breakfast program. …

This report describes the research project I conducted to determine if a survey would provide data that could be used to increase the average daily participation rate of the breakfast program. Results: The survey yielded valuable data about students’ breakfast consumption patterns, food preferences and the correlation between nutrition knowledge, behavior and motivation.


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  • 1. Elizabeth M. MadisonCompetenciesDI 1.1 Select appropriate indicators and measure achievement of clinical, programmatic, quality,productivity, economic or other outcomesDI 1.5 Conduct research projects using appropriate research methods, ethical procedures and statisticalanalysisProject Description - Conduct a cafeteria based research project on an agreed upon thesis statement ona topic of interest to you and the food service director in the areas of marketing, operations, nutritioneducation and promotion or sustainability.Research QuestionWould a survey completed by students provide information that could be used to improve the EdisonSchool District Breakfast in the Classroom program in order to increase the daily participation rate?HypothesisMy hypothesis is that a survey would provide data that could be used to increase the average dailyparticipation rate of the breakfast program.There is a substantial body of evidence-based research about successful breakfast program models.Studies conducted by the National Dairy Council and the Child Nutrition Foundation, The Action forHealthy Kids and The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) indicate that a highly effective strategyto improve breakfast program participation is to conduct student-focused surveys that can providefeedback to enable school districts to customize their breakfast programs for maximum participation.The Breakfast in the Classroom program at the Edison School District, implemented in October, 2011 inthree elementary and two middle schools was launched with limited promotion or marketing. A well-designed implementation plan that integrated feedback from students, parents and teachers, and alsotook into account food service operations, had not yet been developed. The breakfast programstructure employed a pre-order process, which resulted in a low average daily participation rate. Toaddress this problem, the district superintendent instituted a new policy that replaced the pre-orderingprocess with an unsolicited breakfast meal distribution approach for all free and reduced meal eligiblestudents. Paid students, however, still had to pre-order breakfast. This approach, though moresuccessful, still did not yield the anticipated daily participation rate. In addition, a high number ofbreakfast meals are returned daily, which increases food cost and waste. Lastly, the distinction betweenfree and reduced students became obvious in the classroom setting since only those students receivethe breakfast meal bags. This has a stigmatizing effect which negatively impacts the daily participationrate and results in returned meal bags. These last two issues were particularly prevalent and systemic inthe middle school.To identify the factors that influence students’ decisions to participate in the breakfast program andreceive input into menu development, a survey was proposed. The survey was designed to elicitresponses about students’ breakfast consumption habits, and food preferences and dislikes. Theinformation obtained from the survey responses could supply Chartwells and the school district withinformation that could lead to the development of an effective marketing strategy and an appealingbreakfast menu, potentially resulting in increased daily participation. 1
  • 2. Elizabeth M. MadisonTarget PopulationMiddle school students were the target population for this survey. This population was chosen due tothe exceptionally low daily participation rate, the high rate of returned breakfast meals and the negativeresponse created by the mandatory breakfast meal distribution policy for free and reduced meal eligiblestudents.Sample SizeThe average daily population for Thomas Jefferson Middle School is 750. Given a 95% confidence levelwith a confidence interval of 4, the minimum sample size required to reliably represent the middleschool population was 334. This sample size ensured that a sufficient number of breakfast programparticipating students completed the survey, as the majority of the students are not participating.750 surveys were distributed, 571 were returned, and 217 were incomplete and thus could not be used.354 were completed accurately and used for data collection, which exceeded the required minimalsample size.InterventionA survey was used to conduct the breakfast feedback study.ControlDue to the survey design, a control group was not necessary.TimeframeThe survey was conducted on February 12, 2012. The completed surveys were returned on February 13,2012.LocationThe survey was conducted at the Thomas Jefferson Middle School.MethodologyThe survey was designed with feedback from the school principal, two teachers, and food servicemanagement during food service advisory committee meetings. The survey contained 16 questions: 1open-ended, 5 with yes/no responses, 5 with multiple choice responses, 4 with single choice responses,and 1 with a ranked response.The anonymous survey was distributed to all present and available students in the 6th, 7th and 8th gradesby teachers during homeroom on February 12, 2012.The returned surveys were reviewed for completeness. Surveys that were not complete weredisqualified from the data analysis. Each question was tallied separately using an an Excel workbook torecord results.ResultsThe survey yielded valuable data about students’ breakfast consumption patterns, food preferences andthe correlation between nutrition knowledge, behavior and motivation. The following are key findings. 2
  • 3. Elizabeth M. MadisonBreakfast consumption patternsThe majority of students ate breakfast at least 5 days a week (81%). 11% ate breakfast only 3-4 timesper week. 8% never ate breakfast. The main reason for not eating breakfast was due to lack of hunger.Only 30% of children who ate breakfast at home had milk and a juice or fruit as part of the meal.216 (61%) of students did not eat breakfast in school. 138 (39%) ate breakfast in school at least once aweek.Breakfast program participationThe students who never participate in the breakfast program cited the following reasons for not doingso:  don’t like the menu - 82%  not enough time to eat breakfast - 62%  don’t like eating breakfast in the classroom - 15%  would rather eat breakfast in the cafeteria - 9%Breakfast program issues for participating studentsThe students who did participate in the breakfast program at least one day a week cited the followingconcerns:  don’t like the menu - 69% o would like to have a hot breakfast o want more variety for certain food items (see food preferences section below)  not enough time to eat breakfast - 69%  don’t like eating breakfast in the classroom - 8%  would rather eat breakfast in the cafeteria - 15%Food preferencesThe food preference results were combined for participating and non-participating students. Theresponses provided insight into students’ palates.65% of surveyed students requested a complete, hot breakfast. They suggested pancakes, waffles,home fries and bacon.In the pastry category, the number one requested item was Pop-Tarts (168 respondents) followedclosely by bagels (132). Other requested items were:  more cereal choices throughout the month, e.g. Frosted flakes, Trix, Cocoa Puffs  more muffin flavors, e.g. chocolate chip was requested most often  oatmeal with toppings  granola barsFor beverages, chocolate milk was requested (52 respondents). Tea and coffee was requested (46),however, only by eighth graders.Breakfast promotion campaign ideas 3
  • 4. Elizabeth M. MadisonOf the five ideas presented, the idea that was ranked highest was ‘special events and promotions aboutbreakfast’ (213 respondents). The second highest ranking idea was messages about the health benefitsof breakfasts (164).DiscussionThe survey provided valuable feedback which can be used to improve menu offerings and promotionstrategies. Though hot breakfast was requested frequently, the original breakfast program implementedin the 2010-2011 school year did feature hot breakfast, however, participation was low, hence theprogram structure modification to the Breakfast in the Classroom model. Studies have shown that acafeteria - based breakfast program is only effective if students have ample time to arrive to school andeat breakfast before classes start. This may not be feasible given the tight school day schedule.The studies mentioned earlier confirm the survey’s findings regarding menu offerings and promotionstrategies. Students desire a significant amount of variety in breakfast items and become quicklydisinterested in repetitive menus. Menu promotion is a critical element to increasing daily participation.Some evidence - based strategies include advertising of breakfast menu using social media, e.g.Facebook and Twitter; school websites, public announcements, promoting breakfast during lunch withflyers; and sponsoring contests for breakfast meal consumption. Food samplings, especially for newbreakfast items, are an extremely effective strategy. These ideas can be implemented with minimal costand could potentially increase the breakfast program participation rate.The data regarding the low number of students reporting consumption of a complete breakfast at home– a meal that includes milk and a fruit or fruit juice – provides an excellent opportunity to promote thebreakfast program. A marketing strategy could be developed that would promote the nutritionally –sound, complete breakfast that is provided at no or low cost.Some limitations of the survey were the high number of incomplete surveys. More clearly definedinstructions for each question may have resulted in more accurately completed surveys, yielding ahigher sample size. The nutrition education/behavioral change questions did not yield significantlyuseful information. The students may have been experiencing survey fatigue by the time theycompleted the questions and did not answer accurately or honestly. Another study exclusively focusedon behavioral change and nutrition education could be developed if so desired.The research hypothesis that proposed that a survey would provide data that could be used to increasethe average daily participation rate was proven. The responses provided yielded significantly reliableinformation (confidence level = 95%) in which to modify the Breakfast in the Classroom Program toincrease participation. However, to truly test the effectiveness of the survey, the changes to the menuand promotional strategy would have to be implemented and the participation rate tracked followingimplementation. In addition, the survey would have to be completed again to assess any changes inresponses. The Robert J. Wood Foundation funded several studies that used this approach. The resultsof the second survey confirmed that the data derived from the first survey did result in greaterparticipation. To implement this strategy, a commitment from the school district would be required, asthere are several program components, particularly the marketing strategy, which would require buy-infrom the school administration.Conclusion 4
  • 5. Elizabeth M. MadisonThis research can add to the existing body of evidence regarding effective strategies for breakfastprograms. It can also result in significant, quantitative and qualitative improvements in the EdisonSchool District breakfast program. If the program is successful, it can be replicated in other Chartwells’accounts.References 1. National Dairy Council and the Child Nutrition Foundation. Marketing Strategies to Increase Breakfast Participation. 2009. 2. The Action for Healthy Kids. Helping Students Make Better Food Choices in School, A Report. 2006. 3. The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). School Breakfast in America’s Big Cities. 2007. 4. Robert J. Wood Foundation. Breakfast First: Promotion & Outreach for Effective School Breakfast Programs. 2011. 5