Finding time to eat breakfast can be a challenge for high school students, especially those who have practice before school or who are riding a bus. It’s become easier ever since Dickinson High School started offering breakfast at school.

Head cook Chantal Crandell talked about her breakfast program in observance National  School Lunch Week Oct. 15-19.

“We started a breakfast program this fall -- we haven’t had one here before,” she said. “I guess the board asked why we didn’t have a breakfast  program and the new principal wanted one, and there’s a need for it.”

She would like the entire student body who needs a breakfast to come in.

“Right now, it’s mostly kids who are here for early  practices who don't necessarily get a breakfast and they ask me if we have anything for them to eat,” she said. “We’re getting between 45 and 50 kids right now. We have the volleyball girls, weight lifting and cross country; and when the weather starts getting colder, they don't want to hang around outside.”

Breakfast starts at 6:30 a.m., but the majority of students come from 7:30 to 8:10 a.m. because that’s when the buses get there.

Student Alyssa Dickons comes for breakfast about once a month -- she filled her tray on Wednesday with a cereal, yogurt and fruit. She simply was hungry.

Freshman Rebecca Cichy comes every single day, saying it’s something she’s done since fifth grade.

When Crandell  was formulating a breakfast menu plan, she looked at what other schools offered and then expanded  the choices Typical items include oatmeal, cold cereal, yogurt, string cheese, toast, muffins, bagels, waffles, milk and juice. But her kids are treated to pancake wraps on Tuesdays, sausage-egg croissants on Wednesdays, bacon-egg tornados on Thursdays and breakfast pizza on Fridays.

“Every once in awhile I make my own breakfast sandwiches -- I cook the eggs, bacon and ham, add the cheese and put them in the cooler,” she said. “I don’t make the breakfast pizza or burritos by scratch -- I’m only one person.”

The breakfast rule is to choose at least three items such as a fruit, hard-boiled egg, granola bar, milk or juice.

“Kids who do wrestling or weights all morning are famished and they are getting one of everything,” she said.

Crandell is in school by 4:30 a.m. three days a week for food deliveries.

“Yesterday, I did 60 caramel rolls for the staff, made breakfast and lunch, and by the time I left, I was ready for bed,” she  said with a smile. “Normally, I’m out by 1:15 p.m. but I do most of my book work at home.”

Crandell relies on assistant cook Kris Sorkness, who transferred to DHS from Lincoln’s kitchen.

“It’s way different that the elementary,” she said.

The cooks used to bake their own bread, but they still prepare the salads and pastas. During the warmer months, the kitchen serves between 160 and 180 meals, but after it’s cold, they can expect up  to 280.

“We have over 1,000 students here and a lot of kids say the reason they don’t come is because there isn’t enough room for seating,” she said.

Crandell learned to bake from her mother. She was a cook at Grand Junction High School in Colorado, then moved to Rangely, Colo. (northwest corner of the state) where she was head custodian. When her husband was transferred because of his job, they moved to Dickinson.

“I love my job -- I love my coworkers,” she said. “My challenge is getting students to understand what good food we’re serving and how much better it is rather than eating a bag of chips and energy drink. I like to get them to come and try things.”

At district level

Nancy Wahl, RDN, LD, FSD,  is the food service director for the Dickinson Public School District. Her team includes the following head cooks: Twyla Heidecker, Jefferson; Jo Erickson, Roosevelt; Pam Pachl, Heart River; Brenda Meyer, Prairie Rose; Ronda Logan, Dickinson Middle School; Chantal Crandell, Dickinson High; Marsha Breiner, Berg and Lilly Gresser, Lincoln.

The Dickinson Public Schools serve approximately 2,400 lunches daily.

“The noon meals are crucial -- there are a lot of hungry children who look forward to a meal every day -- it’s the highlight of their day,” Wahl said. “I try to plan my meals around commodities received by the federal government. I change my menu every single month according to what the cools like to make and what we have on hand. It makes it fun for the kids.”

She’s tried a few menu items that didn’t go over so well with the kids -- like tuna or baked cod.

“The kids don’t care for fish,” she said.

She’s mandated to include certain food items.

“The kids are so sick of beans but they are mandatory,” she said.  Michelle Obama designed these rules, and down South, beans go over well -- here not so much,” she added.

Wahl has implemented an “Offer Versus Serve at Lunch” policy. The goal is to reduce plate waste and encourage more food choices. All five required food components must be offered and students are asked to take three of the five. If students don’t take a fruit or vegetable, they are encouraged to consider dried fruit like raisins. Extra components like chips and pudding cannot count. Lunch must be priced as a unit. And finally, Offer versus Serve at Lunch is required for students in grades 9-12.

Wahl is proud of the meals being served in the school district.

“We order the top of the crop -- we get the best of the best because it’s coming from the government,” she said. “The cooks order daily food items, but I order all the commodities.”