On a Friday morning last September, more than 500 fathers and children filled the courtyard of White Oak Elementary in Newnan, Ga., where they enjoyed fresh doughnuts, coffee, and juice before classes began. In May, the mothers will get their turn, accompanying their children to the same spot for muffins. These PTO-sponsored events have proved to be real crowd-pleasers.

“It’s all pretty low key,” says Kim Weber, the White Oak PTO president for two years running. “We simply invite folks to come in and enjoy the morning with their children and maybe meet a couple of people at the school.”

Breakfast-theme events are a great way to make new-to-school parents feel welcome. They’re fairly easy to organize, too, which makes them even more appealing. Here’s a primer to help make yours a hit.

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Think About the Name

The first order of business is to make your event welcoming to different types of families. Since the word “mom” or “dad” often works its way into the event name, have your promotional materials contain a qualifying line inviting substitute parental figures, as well. A grandparent, aunt or uncle, another signifi-cant adult, or even moms in place of dads (and vice versa) can fill in so no one feels left out.

Don’t feel like you have to stick with the most common names or even hold your event before school. Some schools hold afternoon Munchies With Mom or evening Desserts With Dad programs.

And instead of holding two events, one for moms and one for dads, some parent groups host a single event that any parent can attend. These often have names like Pastries With Parents or Breakfast Buddies. (Then promote your event widely with Facebook reminders—just right-click and download.)

Form a Committee

One chairperson is usually sufficient to handle the main details. That includes ordering the food, picking it up beforehand, and organizing enough volunteers to run the show. At many schools, moms volunteer to work at Doughnuts With Dad while dads pitch in at Muffins With Mom.

Give a heads-up to the school staff, too. Your principal and some teachers may want to drop by, and custodians can help set up heavy tables. Even if parents will be doing all the serving and cleaning up, it’s a good idea to let the kitchen staff know you might need to use the sink or store juice in a corner of the refrigerator.

Anticipate Traffic

Before you issue invitations, you’ll want to estimate how many people the school’s facilities can accommodate. A too-small parking lot or cafeteria can definitely thwart proceedings, but there are ways around those problems.

The James Earl Carter Elementary PTO in Palm Desert, Calif., spreads breakfast-type events over two days. One event is held for students in kindergarten through 2nd grade and another is held for 3rd through 5th grade students. “It definitely eases congestion in the parking lot,” says copresident Jackie Fenson, “although we do ask parents with kids in both upper and lower grades to come only once.”

Or you can take things even further, like Ebb Valley Elementary in Manchester, Md., does by literally stepping away from the property. The school’s PTA holds its morning events at a local volunteer fire company two miles away.

“The fire company donates their hall for our event,” says president Jenny Wennell. “It’s part of getting our community involved in the school system. The parents bring their kids to the fire hall, they have breakfast with them, and then the parents head off to work and we put the kids on school buses and bring them to school from the fire hall.”

Calculate the Crowd

There’s nothing worse than running out of food before all invitees have had a chance to partake. It happened this year at White Oak, requiring a last-minute doughnut run, Weber recalls.

Incorporating an RSVP into a homebound information flyer is wise, especially the first time around. Not everyone will respond, but you’ll get a ballpark figure. Say, for example, 250 RSVPs are returned. Round that number up to 300 and multiply by two to identify how many doughnuts, muffins, or pastries to order. Do the same with drinks, figuring on at least two cups of coffee per adult and extra juice for thirsty kids.

If supplies start to dwindle but the crowd doesn’t, consider cutting baked goods in half. The volunteers at Carter Elementary do that right off the bat in the case of jumbo muffins, the sort commonly found at big-box stores. “Mini muffins, while cute, were just too expensive,” Fenson says. “We found better value in purchasing the jumbo size and cutting them in half to reduce waste.”

Shop around for the best deals. Be sure to mention that it’s for a school event; some merchants will grant you special discounts, especially when buying in bulk. Don’t overlook the school cafeteria, either. Leaders of the White Oak PTO discovered they could preorder mini muffins at a good price through their lunchroom manager.

If you decide to order doughnuts from a local bakery, remember to designate someone to pick them up bright and early the morning of your event.

Pay Attention to Details

Accomplish whatever you can the day before. That includes setting up an area to welcome guests, a flow pattern, a place to park backpacks, and the requisite tables and chairs as well as serving stations complete with coffee urns, napkins, sugar packets, stir sticks, and the like. Decor can be simple and even functional, as is the case at Carter Elementary.

“We cover the tables with butcher paper, then set out cups of crayons so the kids can do something while the grown-ups talk—although we often find dads coloring right along with their children!” Fenson says.

It’s a good idea to have a few volunteers running the baked goods table, too. “We’ve noticed dads don’t supervise the children as closely as moms do, and one year we had kids taking three and four doughnuts at once, so much so that we ran out!” Wennell says. A few volunteers can make sure kids don’t take too much food and enforce the rule that “if you touch it, it’s yours.”

Finally, make sure enough volunteers stick around to help clean up and dismantle the event long after the guests of honor have left for work or class.

Keep It Simple

At some breakfast events, students present Mom or Dad with a special craft or a poem about their parent. This works best when teachers work with students ahead of time to complete the projects. If you want to include a craft at your Muffins with Mom or Doughnuts with Dad event, keep it simple so it can be completed quickly.

One quick option is to put up a photo booth where parent-child pairs can take selfies. Provide a backdrop or a prop with the name of your school, the event name, and the year. The photos families take will serve as nice keepsakes from the event. If you have an hour or more for your event, you may want to consider having students perform a song or adding a craft or a questionnaire where students guess the answers to questions about their parents.

Make the Most of It

Informal social events like Muffins With Mom and Doughnuts With Dad provide the perfect chance to meet parents you might not otherwise. PTO members at White Oak Elementary wear identifying T-shirts while mingling with the crowd. Former Carter Elementary PTO president Priscilla Kubas always brings a camera and snaps photos of family twosomes or groups that she later posts in the school lobby.

“It brings people back into the building to see their pictures on the bulletin board, makes them feel part of the school,” says current copresident Fenson. “For entertainment, we run a slide show featuring previous school happenings. People mill around, munching on their doughnut and looking to see if their kid’s on it.”

Networking with parents at breakfast events has helped the Ebb Valley Elementary PTO recruit new volunteers, Wennell says.

All other motives aside, these events provide an occasion for young students to share special time with a parent or another adult important in their lives. Think of your event as a time for families to make memories, and no matter what format you decide upon—morning or evening, inside or out, other activities or not—it will be a success!


Healthy Alternatives

If your PTO is concerned about healthy eating, there’s plenty you can do to lower the calorie count of your Doughnuts With Dad or Muffins With Mom event. Look for muffins made from whole grains as well as low-fat and bran muffins. Stay away from jelly- and cream-filled doughnuts, which usually pack more calories than glazed varieties.

Offer plenty of bite-size fruits and veggies to go along with the baked goods The following foods pack a real nutritious punch; even better, they’re easy to prepare and serve.

Grapes: Buy big bunches, wash them, and cut them down to handful-size bunches. “You can serve a lot of people with one big bunch of grapes, probably 20,” says Carter PTO copresident Jackie Fenson.

Bananas: Cut them in half with the peels still on. Like grapes, they’re really portable.

Oranges: They’re fairly easy to quarter but might prove redundant if you’re already serving orange juice. Substitute apple juice if you go this route.

Melon: Seasonal, yes. But you can serve a lot of people from one sectioned melon. Cantaloupe, honeydew, crenshaw, watermelon—buy what’s on sale and mix it up.

Fruit bowls: Ebb Valley Elementary serves these. They’re slightly more labor-intensive, but if you have a really good group of parent volunteers, you can pull it off. Throw in strawberries, bananas, blueberries, and melon, or whatever is local and in season.

Carrot sticks, other assorted vegetables, and dip: This is a nice option if you decide to host an evening event like Desserts With Dad.