What’s for Lunch?
Does your school district want to serve ingredient-driven, scratch-cooked meals, engage students in food literacy, and nutrition education, and promote life-long wellness, but struggle to implement change due to fluctuating student lunch participation, budget, and facility constraints, or lack of trained staff? Your district is not alone.
Since March 2020, school food service teams have stretched and broken new ground they never dreamed they’d have to do. Despite the loss of Universal meals in most states and the continued challenges with the supply chain and staffing, food service teams continue to be at the front lines for children’s health and wellbeing in our communities.
Lunch Lessons understands these struggles and the challenges school districts are facing. With our years of on-the-ground operational experience, coupled with detailed knowledge of school food service operations, we can help your district innovate its food service system through strategic analysis. It is possible to identify new goals and achieve them.
Systemic Approach to Your School Food Transition
Lunch Lessons offers a whole system approach to “food services,” utilizing the complex interdependent network of finance, procurement, transport, food production, human resources, meal service, and record-keeping – while operating within a federally regulated environment with limited financial resources. We identify strengths and challenges within the existing system to craft strategies to meet the goals of the school district and community.
HOW IT WORKS
Whole System Perspective
Food is the primary focus in the process, in support of serving a healthy, whole food based school lunch. We refer to this as “defining your food standards.” We are not referring to federal or state code (while important and will be taken into consideration,) we are talking about how your district defines or describe the food ingredients procured for your meal programs.
Food standards definitions guide menu planning and ultimately procurement. The amount of district and community stakeholders shaping and defining standards in food procurement is growing as school districts recognize the value in creating a healthy school environment on all levels, including the dining room.
Fiscal Management is the process of keeping an organization running efficiently within its planned budget. Fiscal accountability in food service departments is imperative given the challenge of operating in a regulated environment, and often with limited revenue, outdated facilities, and high personnel costs. Meticulous fiscal management is critical to sustainably shifting the operational model from ready-to-serve foods to scratch-cooked meals. With reliable fiscal processes, food service directors can lead with full transparency and accountability, supporting informed decisions when developing and growing their programs.
Shifting systems to a whole foods model may require facility improvement or construction.
It is essential for the food service director and key members of their management team to learn enough about facility design and equipment to guide the district and ensure that efficient production systems are created or maintained. Service areas and dining rooms need to accommodate the needs of the fresh food system, as well, with open concepts, comfortable seating and flow. Facility improvement planning allows a director to make the most advantageous decisions and direct her/his resources as effectively as possible when the opportunity arises.
The human resources component is critical to any organization, and a clear understanding of the expectations and challenges related to staffing is essential for full-scale change to be successful. Personnel is the largest expense in food service departments and historically food service departments are populated with the lowest paid employees in the district. How does a district increase the professional skills in its department within budgetary constraints? Balancing production, revenue, and personnel costs is the biggest challenge in every changing system. Assessments of participation trends, timelines for system change, reorganization for efficiency, and ongoing professional development are key components for program improvements.
MARKETING & COMMUNITY COLLABORATION
Marketing your school food program is paramount for reaching and maintaining your district’s wellness goals. It will elevate the significance of your work by educating the community about improvements to the school food system. When you tell your school and the public about the vegetables that you’re planting in the school garden, or the local farmers that you support, or the events that you’re hosting in the cafeteria, you are not only providing them with news, you are also encouraging them to get involved—whether that’s reinforcing the message at home, or taking on a participatory role.