School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Laura and the superheros in Wamego!


Laura Fails started working in USD 320, Wamego, Kansas, in 2005, becoming Food Service Director in 2008. The district serves about 1,600 students, with approximately 25 percent qualifying for free/reduced-priced meals. Pre-pandemic the district served    1,000 to 1,200 lunches and 350 breakfasts. In early March 2021, Laura was at LAC in DC with several other Kansas directors and the state Child Nutrition director. Returning to Wamego and a busy weekend of planning, her department began feeding students in the park, one day after the school district decided to close. They prepared meals for 500 students, feeding 175 children the first day; participation grew and grew as waivers came in, and soon they were serving over 900 children a day. In September 2020, the district returned to in-person learning with the option of remote learning. Currently all breakfasts and some lunches are served in the classroom with delivery to about 45 remote-learning students.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Laura’s biggest challenge was keeping so many details organized and tied together. Keeping her staff motivated, encouraged and supported required a tremendous amount of energy especially with constant pivoting. Any cheerleader will tell you that the job requires a lot of energy, especially when routines, schedules and everything else is constantly changing. Laura reports that it helped her to realize that there was more than just one way to do things and to witness the amazing team work that developed among those working together. At some points during COVID19, she had just as just as many volunteers as paid workers, including former students, parents and community folks.

Kiwanis volunteers Roland and Ruth Miller for help distributing remote meals

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Covid has made a real difference in how the community sees and supports school nutrition programs in Wamego – so much so that the Food Service Department received the Wamego Chamber of Commerce Impact Award for 2020. She is gratified that local groups and agencies now understand the value of school meals and are open to partnerships and collaborations. A relationship with the local library has grown into a literary programs with books, make-and-take recipes and nutrition videos. It started as small seed and has grown into something that will benefit the whole community.

USD 320 Food Services recognized with Chamber of Commerce Impact Award

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Being able to serve breakfast in the classroom (BIC) has been a major innovation in USD 320 and Laura is planning to continue the program in all schools. Prior to the pandemic there had been pushback, especially from teachers, but now many school leaders can see how well it can works with their own eyes – and how much it can benefit academic performance. Before 2020 the school district had never been a sponsor for summer feeding. Now the program is theirs – and they were able to expand offerings to small outlying communities and delivery routes last summer. Laura hopes to maintain the expanded programs to serve more children in the mornings and over summer break.

Breakfast carts encourage students to grab-n-go to their classroom

School Breakfast Trends, Peanut Allergy Facts and Keeping Students Safe


According to the Food and Research Action Center’s February 2020 Breakfast Scorecard, “14.6 million children ate breakfast at school on an average day in the 2018–2019 school year.” This is an increase of over 46,000 students per day from the previous year. Much of the growth has been outside of the traditional before-school breakfast in the cafeteria – using a variety of alternative models including breakfast in the classroom, grab-and-go breakfast carts/kiosks, and mid-morning breakfast breaks. Changes in location have led to changes in menus with increases in self-stable, packaged, and easier-to-transport items. While there is nothing inherently wrong with packaged foods (which must meet National School Breakfast Program regulations), some districts are struggling with the perception of school breakfast as lots of sugars and other carbs.

School Breakfast Trends: The expectations and perceptions of student customers, especially teenagers, is also changing. Based on the breakfast choices they enjoy in fast food and quick-serve locations, they expect to also see options like protein boxes, grain bowls and fruit smoothies at school. Savvy school nutrition directors are upping their breakfast game to be more restaurant-like with everything from omelet bars and overnight oats to homemade cinnamon rolls and specialty parfaits. Many of these new school breakfast items are specifically created to decrease sugar while enhancing protein content. Looking for ways to make breakfast stick, school chefs are focusing on the right balance of protein, fat and fiber.

PB&J Greek Yogurt Parfait

The Peanut Butter Solution: With those criteria, it is not surprising that the “peanut butter solution” comes to mind. Peanut butter is popular with students and is an affordable source of protein with healthy plant-based fiber (6% DV) and good fats. Peanut butter is also very versatile from a culinary standpoint – easy-to-use in baked goods, blended items and spreadable applications. However peanut is one of the top eight food allergens so schools must implement strategies to keep students with allergies safe at school. While some studies estimate that 2% of children are allergic to peanuts, the good news is that as many as 20% of peanut allergies may be outgrown, while new treatments are being developed and tested. The peanut industry wants everyone with allergies to be safe so they support the latest research and resources at Prevent Peanut

Keeping Students Safe: The goal of school breakfast is to offer as many healthy, appealing food options to as many students as possible, while ensuring that all customers with food allergies are protected. Three important ways to accomplish this goal are:

  • Training: Ensure that all nutrition staff receive regular training on all food allergies. Everyone who works with food or in the cafeteria needs to know how to avoid cross-contamination and how to recognize food allergy reactions.
  • Planning: Careful planning is the key to preventing problems. Each student with a food allergy should have an individualized plan that include school foodservice, nurses, classroom staff and coaches.
  • Labeling: Make certain that all products containing an allergen are clearly labelled with text, photo or colors, as appropriate for the age and reading level of students. Check any new products and recipes for proper labeling. 

Need helping with ideas, webinars, training videos and more? Visit Managing Peanut Allergies and click on the schools section. You can also visit the School Nutrition Association’s Food Allergy Resource Center.

Peanut butter granola bars

Peanut Butter Recipes: Delicious peanut butter recipes for school breakfast are available through a variety of sources, including the USDA Recipe Box, state department of education resources and Healthy School Recipes.  

Peanut Butter Vanilla Yogurt Dip:

This blog post is sponsored by the National Peanut Board. Learn more about the benefits and practicalities of serving peanut products in K-12 at