The breakfast crowd was small but enthusiastic at Relay Elementary School yesterday.
"Are we doing this every day?" asked Mike Baquol, 11, as he picked out cereal and orange juice.
"Um hum," cafeteria employee Carolyn Carroll assured him.
"Oh boy," said the happy eater, joining classmates in the cafeteria.
It was a first for Mike and for Baltimore County, which began serving school breakfast yesterday. The county had been the only Maryland school district not participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Breakfast Program.
The program started at Relay and Arbutus elementary schools, Arbutus Middle School and 15 high schools that had been serving a la carte breakfast for most of the school year.
About 20 students ate breakfast at Relay and 50 at Arbutus Elementary schools yesterday, said Katherine Chin, nutrition specialist for the school system's food and nutrition service. Because of computer problems, she did not know how many students ate breakfast at the other schools.
The elementary schools served two cold menus: orange juice, assorted cereals, milk and graham crackers, or orange juice, almond Danish and milk.
Hot items were available at the middle and high schools, where there are kitchens. The selections included egg-and-muffin sandwiches, fruit turnovers, bagels (cream cheese optional) and hot chocolate, said Rufus Vernier, area superintendent for the school food service.
The national program reimburses schools for each full breakfast served, but not for a la carte items. A full breakfast is defined as one serving of milk, one fruit and either two breads, two meats or one bread and one meat.
"I like it," said Relay fourth-grader Sarah Hund. "My mom was in a rush this morning."
Kindergartner Ann Trippe, reportedly the first breakfaster, pronounced her meal "pretty good," though her older sister Elizabeth said, "Annie says that about everything."
Elizabeth, who said she gets too hungry to wait for breakfast at school, is this week's breakfast hostess, assigned to help younger children open milk cartons and cereal boxes and get settled.
Timmy Hartman, 7, had no trouble settling in. He was, in fact, milking every bite, as he crushed graham crackers in the chocolate milk at the bottom of his cereal bowl. "I love breakfast," he announced.
Traditionally, school breakfast is not a big favorite around the state. Every student may partake, but only about 7 percent do, said Shelly Terry, chief of food and transportation services for the Maryland Department of Education.
David Patterson, acting director of the food and nutrition service, said the county's program has to serve 16 percent to 17 percent of all students "to break even."
In Baltimore County, breakfast costs $1 in elementary school and $1.10 in middle and secondary schools. In other counties, prices range from 50 cents to $1.10. Children from low-income families can get free and reduced-priced breakfasts, based on need.
Seventeen more schools will start serving breakfast by the end of April. Mr. Patterson said all of the county's 148 schools will be serving breakfast by November.