National School Breakfast Week: March 7-11, 2016

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Breakfast is widely known as the most important meal of the day, and National School Breakfast Week is here to encourage kids to enjoy breakfast every day! The week long celebration of breakfast began in 1989. This year’s theme is “Wake up to School Breakfast.” This week, schools across the country are putting their breakfast programs on display to show students and their families that school lunches are for everyone, because they are both healthy and affordable.

There are tons of ways to get your students – and their families – excited about school breakfasts. Have you planned a celebration for this week? Letting teachers and students know that National School Breakfast Week 2016 has arrived is the first step.

Breakfast Facts for National School Breakfast Week

Teachers can remind students of a few important breakfast related facts! They may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but do they understand why?

Eating A Healthy Breakfast Increases Attention & Memory

Students who eat breakfast daily have been proven to have better memory and a longer attention span than those who don’t. In addition, the quality of the food has been shown to affect cognition, according to The Wellness Impact Report, 2013. The research showed that students who eat breakfast that lacks nutritional value are more likely to miss school, show signs of hunger before lunch, and have psycho social issues in school.

Healthy Breakfasts Boost Performance in School

A second study called Ending Childhood Hunger: A Social Impact Analysis, 2013, showed that eating school breakfast has an effect on a student’s performance. In the study, students who ate school breakfast attended 1.5 more days of school each year, on average, than those who did not. Eating school breakfasts also led to higher standardized math test scores.

Breakfast Makes a Better Overall Student

Schools function the best when all students arrive on time, every day, pay attention, and are able to understand the material. Of course, this is not the case in any school, but according to Breakfast for Learning, 2014, students who ate school breakfast showed improvement in all areas.

Students who participated in school breakfast programs had better attendance records, lower rates of tardiness, fewer behavior issues, and they earned higher test scores on standardized tests.

School Breakfast Is for Everyone

One of the benefits of school breakfast programs is that they are there for every student, and often, low-income students can receive free or discounted meals. That means that even if there is no food at home, a student can still reap all of the benefits of a healthy breakfast, every day.

According to the Impact of School Breakfast on Children’s Health & Learning, 2008, a school’s breakfast program can make a significant difference in the life of a child, especially a low-income child. Because a healthy breakfast helps increase memory and attention span, it helps to improve the learning capabilities and cognitive abilities of children. When comparing low-income children who eat school breakfast and those who do not, those who had breakfast had better attendance, higher energy levels, were more alert in school, had better memories, and scored higher on things like math and reading.

School Breakfasts Over Breakfast at Home

Often, eating breakfast at school instead of at home can help students show up to school and be there on time for several reasons. First, they have fewer things to do at home, so they can get ready faster. Second, if a child is hungry and knows that the school provides a healthy meal, they are motivated to work with a parent to get there. Taking time to eat together before school starts can help students bond with one another and have some time to wake up and get ready for the day.

What Does the Government’s New Dietary Advice for Americans Mean for School Lunches?

Every five years, the U.S. government revises its dietary guidelines. Each update should reflect new developments in nutrition and science, and the guidelines are meant to help all Americans stay healthy – including schoolchildren.

The newest guidelines were released on January 7, 2016, and there are some notable differences from the old guidelines. The new guidelines place a limit on daily sugar intake – it should make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories. Currently, many Americans eat over 20 teaspoons of sugar in a day, which is almost twice what the new guidelines recommend for the average diet.

Because the guidelines tend to dictate what students are served at school, there will need to be some major changes – which could take years. Many schools have resisted the change toward healthier meals in the past, partly because of the cost, and partly because they say students won’t eat healthier foods.

Why School Foods Are So Sugary

There are several reasons why the limit on sugar intake will be such a big change for school meals.

Many schools serve overly processed meals, from sugary cereals and bars to pancake lunches with syrup. Not only are processed meals more affordable than fresh foods, but they tend to last longer in storage because they’re full of preservatives.

Kids like the taste of sugar – and they’re more likely to eat (and purchase) more food if it’s delicious, cheap, and doesn’t have the fiber to make them feel full.

When schools face tight budgets, it can be hard to make the change to foods that tend to have less added sugar, like foods based on whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

How Can Schools Enact Change?

In order to have healthy kids – who tend to do better in school – schools will need to make a change. It’s okay to start small.

Nearly half of sugars in the American diet come from beverages, from soda to juice. Simply offering things like regular milk, 100% juice, or water instead of sugar filled drinks at school can cut a lot of sugar out of kids’ diets.

Prepackaged snacks or side dishes are another source of sugar, especially when they include sauces or dips. Offering whole fruits, like apples, bananas, pears, or oranges is a better option for kids.

Dairy can be another hidden source of sugar in school meals. Instead of flavored milk and sweetened yogurt, schools could limit students to regular milk and offer plain yogurt with fresh fruit.

Healthy School Lunches During The Holidays

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Healthy School Lunches: The Key to a Lifetime of Good Eating Habits – Even During the Holidays!

Eating healthy is a skill like any other. Children need to be taught healthy eating the same way they are taught to do math or ride a bike. After daily practice, it may become a habit, but it’s necessary to continue teaching healthy eating every day.

Some schools are slowly moving towards offering healthier options to students, but hot lunch options are not kids’ only food choices in school. Parents also play an important role in students’ healthy eating decisions.

Does eating healthy in school make a difference in kids’ lives long term? What can they learn in school about healthy habits? How can we help them practice healthy eating over the holidays?

Teaching Healthy Eating in Schools

It is often said that giving a child food will feed them for one day, but teaching them to find and make their own food will feed them for a lifetime. With the growing health crisis in the United States, it is more important than ever to make sure that our children understand how to make healthy decisions and listen to their bodies so that they can continue to do so.

There are several things that children can learn in school about staying healthy.

Eat Slowly – When children are given adequate time to eat their lunches, they can eat slowly and are more likely to feel when their body is full. Rushing through a meal can lead to overeating followed by a lethargic afternoon. It is important to offer children enough time to eat lunch during the day.

Choose Healthy Options – Schools are beginning to offer healthier options to students, but it is also important to teach kids how to select the healthy options, like fruits and vegetables. Often, deciding what to eat when they aren’t hungry, or pre-ordering lunch at the beginning of the day is not only cost effective for schools, but it leads to healthier choices for kids. It also teaches kids that selecting your foods when you aren’t hungry can lead to healthier decisions.

Eat Fresh & Local – Schools that have gardens can teach kids not only how to grow and maintain their own fresh, local foods, but they can educate students about the effects of their actions on the environment, and the effects that fresh, local foods have on people when they eat.

Maintaining Healthy Choices During the Holidays – If students have established these habits in school, they are likely to remember them over the holidays. As a parent, you can encourage your child to do things like shop after a meal, or select healthy options for holiday meals.

Sustainability Trends in School Food Service

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In many schools across the United States, from elementary through college, cafeterias are beginning to move towards providing healthier, sustainable options for students. Sustainable food is ethically responsible, minimizes the negative effects on the environment, prioritizes human health, and is produced from places that treat animals humanely and treat workers fairly.

The current generation of students cares about where their food comes from, and how it got to their plates – in other words, they care whether or not their food is sustainable. Kids are also craving more whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, and foods made from scratch instead of the highly processed foods that have been served in many cafeterias.

Schools that don’t provide sustainable food selections are running into problems – students don’t consider sustainability to be an option; it’s a necessity. High school students in Chicago are publicly protesting their current school lunch options, claiming that it is “unhealthy, unappetizing, and overly processed.” (WBEZ91.5)

So, what are successful schools doing to promote the sustainable food movement within school cafeterias? How are schools meeting the demands of students and their families? There are several things that schools are doing and can continue to do so that the foods kids are eating in school are good for them, good for the environment, and good for the future.

Taking Students’ Health into Consideration

There are some food preferences that students share at all ages like hand held foods, on-the-go options, made-to-order foods, and common staples, like fruits, pizza, chicken sandwiches, and salads. Taste preferences tend to differ depending on the age of the student; younger children prefer simpler foods and older ones enjoy more complex and diverse options.

Schools who support the sustainability movement understand these differences, and how to select food options based on student needs. For example, serving complex dishes to fourth graders would result in a lot more food waste, which is not sustainable, but college students are likely to appreciate it.

Reducing Kitchen Waste

There are a lot of ways to reduce the amount of waste that results from a school kitchen and cafeteria, from recycling and reusing materials and composting food waste to choosing more eco-friendly packaging and dish options. Many schools are choosing to get food locally, which minimizes the amount of packaging and padding required to transport it to the school, and ultimately, reduces waste.

Composting

Schools do tend to have some waste, but there is a sustainable way to deal with it. Composting takes sustainability one step further – it doesn’t end when the food is consumed. Children of all ages can learn to compost, from elementary through college. At the higher level, using compostable food packaging or other materials also reduces waste and adds to sustainability.

Compost can be reused as the process begins again – it can help fertilize landscaping, gardening and farming on school grounds.

Local Sourcing

Another way to promote sustainable food practices is to get food locally. Foods that travel the shortest distances have the least effect on the environment. It’s also easier to get local foods faster, which means that these foods are the freshest and are more likely to retain their health benefits by the time they’re served on a student’s plate.

School Gardens

One of the ultimate results of a more sustainable school food system, including compost as fertilizer, the most local sourcing possible, minimizing fuel and transportation costs, and using fresh, healthy, whole, foods, is that students and staff are taking things into their own hands, and growing their own sustainable foods. This can be a very cost effective option, and it can potentially fit the definition of sustainable food to a tee, depending on how the garden is cared for.

Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

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There has been a push in the last several years for cafeterias to offer healthier food options. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for example, passed new regulations in 2012 requiring more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in school cafeterias.

However, once the food is there, it’s up to patrons to make healthy choices when building a plate. A cafeteria can make a few simple changes to encourage these healthier choices.

How can things like rearranging food options, adding labels and information about options, and offering trays with small dishes make such a difference?

Know Your Patrons

First, it’s important to remember who will be going through the line in your cafeteria. In a hospital, patrons might be of all ages, and children are likely to be accompanied by an adult. In a middle school, children are likely to make decisions about food selection on their own.

Children and adults are drawn to different kinds of food and different displays, so encouraging healthy eating is different, depending on your patrons.

For example, a tactic used by grocery stores to encourage purchasing certain products is to place them at eye level. For children, this means that healthier options should be near the lower shelves, while adults are more likely to notice them on the middle shelves.

Children are also more likely to react to more colorful foods, and those that are well designed. For example, placing a sample dish with healthy, colorful options, and making a face on the plate might encourage children to mimic the display.

Adults, on the other hand, are less likely to be influenced by the way the food is designed, and prefer fewer foods and colors on their plates. However, making healthy food attractive and easy to see will encourage adults to select these items. Fresh, quality fruits and vegetables are bright and colorful on their own, so simply placing them in a visible area can encourage adult patrons to choose them.

Use Small Plates

One of the biggest issues that leads to unhealthy eating choices is portion size. Small plates fill up faster than large ones, which can encourage patrons to eat smaller portions or to choose fewer selections, ultimately, leading to healthier eating choices.

Put Healthy Options in High Traffic Areas

When a hungry patron comes into a cafeteria, they are most likely to fill their plate with the first things they notice. Placing healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, in a high traffic area like the entrance to the cafeteria will encourage more people to eat these foods.

Similarly, placing easy to grab health foods, like apples, bananas, or pears near the checkout counter – another high traffic area – is a great way to encourage patrons to select these items on their way out.

Add Labels and Descriptions

It is important to label all foods in a cafeteria, but the depth of the food descriptions can make a difference in whether or not the food is selected.

The name of the food should, of course, be the first thing on the label to help patrons recognize the food. The more descriptive the name, the more likely an adult patron is to select the food item.

Cafeterias that include health claims on food items may also find that those foods are selected more often, because the description encourages the patron to think about long term effects about what they’re eating now.

Offer Express Checkout

In public cafeterias, offering a healthy express checkout can be an incentive for patrons to fill their plates with healthy options. A checkout line may only serve patrons who are eating both fruits and vegetables, or who fill a certain portion of their plate with greens. Either way, this checkout line is reserved only for healthy eaters.

Food Presentation Can Lead to Healthier Selections in Cafeterias

Does Knowing Nutritional Information Help You Make Healthier Eating Choices?

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has passed a new law in the United States that will require many chain restaurants to include calorie information for all food items on the menu. The goal, according to the FDA, is to “help consumers make informed choices for themselves and their families.” (FDA website)

The law goes into effect on December 1, 2016. Restaurants that will be affected by the new law include those that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. That means that sit-down restaurants, drive thrus, those that serve take-out, coffee shops that serve food, many bars, and more, will be required to provide calorie count information to consumers.

The question is, will having these calorie counts available help the general population make healthier eating choices?

How Do Calorie Labels Affect Areas Where They Are Already in Use?

McDonald’s has already started providing calorie counts on all foods. Arizona State University conducted a study conducted a study to determine whether consumers would notice the calorie counts at McDonald’s, and if noticed, if those calorie labels would affect consumers food choices.

According to the study, certain consumers were more likely to notice that the calorie information was provided and to use it to make healthier consumption habits. Things like higher education and higher income both increased a consumer’s likelihood to do so.

New York City has been labeling calories on food since 2008, and Seattle has been requiring it since 2009. In both cities, it has been shown that for those who notice that the calorie counts are on the food, it does have some effect on the ordering and eating habits.

The question then becomes, how do we encourage people to pay attention to nutrition labels that are on foods?

A Brief History of Nutrition Facts and Food Labels

According to an article on the New York Times blog, “nutrition labels weren’t required on packaged foods in the United States until the 1990s.” Since then, there haven’t been major changes to the way that foods are labeled when it comes to health and nutrition.

When you’re purchasing foods at the grocery store, do you pay attention to the nutrition facts on the label? Do they affect your decisions to purchase or eat certain foods, or how much of those foods you eat?

Today’s nutrition labels are designed based on the eating habits of the American population in the 70’s and 80’s. Some schools today are working to make sure that when today’s children grow up, they know how to select a healthy meal, whether it is based on nutrition facts or not.

Teaching Today’s Kids to Eat Healthy

When compared to schools in other countries, American school lunches are not always the healthiest. Some schools have started to teach kids how to select a healthy lunch. A study at Cornell University showed that when children are given options before lunch time to pre-order their lunch, they are more likely to eat healthy than they are when they see and smell the foods they have to choose from at lunch time when they are already hungry.

In addition to making choices when they’re not hungry and cannot see or smell the food, some schools have opted to offer healthier options than they have in the past. In some cases, this means limiting calorie counts on lunch, and in other cases, it means simply offering more fruits and vegetables, and more whole grains.

While there is still some debate on how well these school systems are working, the idea is to get children to pay more attention to what they are eating and how it affects their bodies – the same thing that the new laws are hoping to accomplish with American adults.

Getting A Handle On Food Waste

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From cafeterias to homes, there are many ways that we waste food in the United States. According to NPR, Americans throw out about a third of the food available to us, and restaurants throw away as much as ten percent of the what they buy. Wasting food is a problem for cafeterias on many levels. First and foremost, it represents wasted money, and few cafeterias can afford to throw away any of their budget.

On a broader scale, this waste represents environmental damage. Wasted food ends up in landfills, and as it rots, it generates harmful greenhouse gasses which contribute to climate change.

Because of the ongoing damage, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a challenge for the United States to reduce its wasted food by 50 % by 2030.

At this point, the challenge is voluntary, but many restaurants have already begun to work towards reducing their waste in order to promote their restaurant as green and increase profits. For school cafeterias, showing that the kitchen is doing everything possible to reduce waste, manage budgets, and go green can help show that the cafeteria is giving kids healthy opportunities to eat and learn.

Rightsize your recipes

When you use food inventory software in your cafeteria, you can look at how much of a particular dish you’ve sold in the past, and plan the right amount to cook this time so that you don’t have waste to throw out.

Manage your inventory

Every kitchen has experienced the frustration of finding an ingredient pushed to the back of the fridge which has now gone bad. By digitally managing your inventory, you can keep track of what needs to be used up when, and plan ahead.

Rely on data, not opinions

There’s plenty of emotion and instinct involved in cooking, but a successful cafeteria balances this with data driven decisions. If you want to show that kids enjoy a particular recipe, reaching for data about how many servings were sold is more useful than word of mouth from servers.

If your cafeteria’s goal is to reduce waste, reuse ingredients when possible, and rightsize its portions to maximize profits and increase satisfaction, software to give you a clear idea of your kitchen’s inventory is the first, important step towards achieving that goal. For now, the EPA goal is non-mandatory, but given increasing pressure from various groups, that may not be the case in the long term. Act today to choose the best software for your kitchen!

How Social Media Can Bring More Students into Your Cafeteria

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As students head back to school this fall, are you and your food service program prepared for the excitement and business of the first few weeks back from vacation? Are all of your data rollovers complete? Have you tested all of your tech to make sure it won’t cause slowdowns in the first days of school? Are you using social media to push your involvement in your school lunch plan?

You may not think of social media as a way to drive participating in school lunches, but some schools are using it to great effect. Take the example of Colorado State University, where the school dramatically improved participation in the meal plan by advertising a certain number of gourmet meals that would be available at a particular time and place.

How can social media benefit your food service program? Let’s take a look.

Promote Certain Items to Increase Student Interest

Let’s say that you have a glut of a particular ingredient in the pantry, and are trying to increase purchasing of a certain dish, so that the supply doesn’t go bad. In the past, you might have made some sort of sign or flyer offering a discount or promoting the item. Try putting it out on social media instead. Tell them how great it is, offer a discount for those who preorder their school lunch, or just increase participation by reminding them of the convenience of the school’s food service program.

If you’re working with a younger student population, you could offer stickers to those who try a new food, like this Farm to School program did in Mississippi.

Increase Online School Lunch Preorders

Encouraging students to preorder their lunches online can save your district a ton of paper, frustration, and planning time. For younger students, the target can be their parents, and for older students, they may be able to complete a school lunch preorder on their own. But however you get the preorders completed, you’ll be able to better plan for the food you have in the freezer, the pantry, and needing to be used. You’ll experience less waste and keep costs down, which can help your food service department run more smoothly for everyone, students and employees alike.

Consider Which Social Media Platforms Are Best for Your District

If you’re tempted to start exploring your options for bringing your food service program’s marketing online through social media, make sure you’re well aware of which social media platforms the kids in your district, or their parents, use. Hardly anyone uses Facebook anymore with any seriousness, especially kids. Colorado State University found the best connections with their target kids through YikYak and Snapchat. They also found useful connections on the subreddits specific to their school.

Talk to the kids in your district, and find out what messages would reach them, then target those services. This way, the message will get where it’s needed.

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

For a lot of social media advertising, the only thing it’s going to cost you is time, and the benefits to improving the number of school lunches preordered, as well as the overall participation in the school’s food service program, are huge. By reaching out to students and building connections with both them and their parents, you increase the perception of the program as being interested and involved in the health of the kids you serve. Be willing to try new strategies and new ways of connecting so that new students can find their way into your food service program and enjoy the benefits of healthy meals.

Catering Success with Catering Software

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The world of business is modernizing, and the catering industry is no exception. In order to stay ahead of the game in a rapidly changing market, you need to enlist some help.

Food management software is designed to give catering businesses the tools they need to really succeed. Read on to find out more.

Boost Your Efficiency

No business can afford to be wasting large amounts of stock, but unfortunately, in the world of catering, this happens all too frequently. Even if you keep a close eye on your operations, and devise thorough plans for each client, you still run the risk of wastage and a dip in profits as a result.

Food management software goes a long way to eliminating this risk altogether. The powerful tools of our software enable business owners and managers to plan precisely what products and ingredients they will need to fulfill a certain contract, making sure that no food gets thrown away.

But out in the field is not the only place that wastage and shrinkage can occur. A powerful piece of inventory management software can help to identify at which points in your supply chain things are going missing, helping you to shine a light on the problem and eliminate it, and boosting your efficiency in the process.

Know Your Business Inside Out

To truly excel in the catering market place, you need to know your business inside and out. This is easy to achieve when your business is still just a fledgling, but what about later on?

How do you keep on top of everything when your business starts to grow?

This is where good quality food management software really comes into its own. By using a food management platform, you will be able to access in depth reports across a variety of metrics, all tailored to your specific query.

This means that, whatever you need to know about your business’ performance or future projections,it is there, readily available, and accessible with only a few clicks of a mouse.

In depth knowledge like this translates to business success; it helps you predict changes in the market before they happen, and adapt your company to accommodate them successfully; it helps you make informed forecasts you can use to measure your future growth targets; and it gives you a convenient vantage point from which to oversee your business as it grows.

Keep Your Customers Smiling… and Returning

A happy customer is a repeat customer, so you don’t need us to tell you that customer satisfaction is key to catering success.

Making sure that your services match and surpass the expectations of your clients is simple as long as you have a good piece of food management software on your side. A great piece of food management software will enable you to effectively oversee your inventory replenishment processes, ensuring that you are always able to provide your clients with what they need, without fail.

It will enable you to assess the performance of your suppliers, reducing costs were necessary and streamlining your stock renewal operation. In turn this will give you the power to price your services competitively within the market.

A great piece of software will also enable you to plan ahead, devising strategies and game plans for your business as it grows, devising new recipes and menus and creating products and service packages that will keep your clients coming back for more.

This benefit doesn’t extend only to your existing client roster, but also becomes a driving force for growth. As word spreads and your clients refer your services to others, you will see an upturn in the number of your regular customers as a direct result of the software.

With such wide-ranging benefits to your business, can you afford not to pursue catering success with catering software?

School Lunch Orders – Getting Paid Up Front vs. Getting Paid in the Lunch Line

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According to statistics, nearly one-third of children between 6 and 19 years of age are considered obese. And a contributing factor is their choosing less healthy foods in school lunchrooms.

To encourage children to make healthier food choices, schools need to consider implementing school lunch preorder and pre-payment programs that can preempt hunger-based, spontaneous selections while eliminating sensory cues like smells and sights. At the same time, preordering of lunch can help schools minimize waste, allow for minimal inventory, and optimize freshness of products.

What are the real benefits of school lunch preorder and pre-payment? We’ve listed them below.

Parents Are in Full Control of Students’ Eating Patterns

With meal preordering and payment, parents and children can decide in advance whether they’re packing a lunch or buying one. As such, they will never have to worry about last-minute treks to the grocery store or conversations like “Where’s my lunch?” ten minutes before the bus arrives.

Students Know What They’re Going to Be Served

When students know what they are going to be served, lunch service itself becomes significantly quicker. At the same time, preordering and pre-payment of lunch allows schools to increase revenue by reducing costs and operating more efficiently.

Studies have shown that for every dollar given for lunch money, only 70 cents gets spent at school. Since meal preordering and pre-payment involves online payments, a cashier is no longer needed. The money ends up in the bank without having to count the drawer, fill out the deposit slip, and run to the bank to deposit it. And parents don’t need to worry about how their child’s lunch money is really being spent.

Upfront Costs Are No Longer an Issue

When getting paid up-front, schools and lunch providers don’t need to be concerned about collecting the cash from the students. Also, receivables are no longer at risk of aging, minimizing collection risk considerably. As consumers, we pay for goods upfront when ordering online, and this can be applied to meal preordering as well.

Lunch Becomes More Organized and Takes Less Time

Paying for meals in the lunch line can be difficult to organize and supervise, especially when every student orders something different. This is not the case when school lunch orders are placed ahead of time: students just go to the lunchroom, and the attendant knows what to serve. There are no decisions to be made, and students don’t have to look for lunch money. Kids can simply pick-up their meal and eat it.

Schools Can Get Out of the Lunch Business Altogether

Schools are not in the food service business by choice. Feeding kids is a necessity. However, many schools choose to opt out of the school lunch order and payment process if possible. Most of the time, contracting with a management company or caterer to make and deliver food is the best option.

In most cases, food is provided by School Board selected vendors. While preordering of meals can solve many problems related to unhealthy food choices, organizers & boards fail to see how they can help with other issues. The food service process can become daunting, and easy solutions get lost in the mix of details. This holds especially true with the combination of order forms, lunch tickets, cash collection, and delivery coordination and reconciliation. Since preordering can help schools save money by eliminating waste, & streamline serving, it also helps students eat healthier.

Preordering and prepayment of school lunch orders will grow as educational institutions become more involved in the health of our nation’s children.