Help your students choose healthier lunch options with pre-order

When you were growing up, there was probably only one option for school lunch. Now, with many different dietary needs, and new laws encouraging whole grains as well as more servings of fruit and vegetables, cafeterias are a very different place. Schools offer a variety of choices, and have developed many different methods of encouraging students to choose healthier options. The most powerful is pre-ordering their lunches.

Student Benefits

We know that a lot of adults don’t make great food choices when they’re already hungry; why do we expect students to do better? Schools in New York found that when they let students choose their lunch at the beginning of the day, almost a third of them chose a healthier entree, as opposed to just 15 percent when they had to choose in line.

When students choose healthier lunches, here’s what we know:

  • They’re more focused and attentive in class
  • They have fewer disciplinary issues
  • They spend less time in line and more time eating their lunches
  • They learn to choose healthier foods as parents support them in making good choices
  • They get to take on independence as parents feel they’re ready for it

Parent Benefits

How well does your child relay what happened at school? When you pre-order your child’s lunch choices with them, you gain insight into what they’re eating at school. You can also:

  • Keep track of what your child is spending their lunch money on, keeping your family budget on track
  • Know that your child is getting a healthy and complete lunch, without the time consuming preparation of making lunch at home
  • Start conversations around healthy foods, and why good food choices are important

School Benefits

When kids pre-order lunch, lunch programs and managers are able to do a more exact job of planning what foods to prepare.

This means that:

  • They reduce waste and have more dollars to spend on foods students love
  • They can plan ahead, building on popular and healthy choices to offer even better options
  • They can be a partner in protecting students from the challenges of obesity and discipline issues

Pre-ordering lunch benefits everyone, from your child, to their school lunch program, to the entire district. It helps you be a part of encouraging your children to make healthy choices, and it supports the goals and values that you share at home.

If your school offers pre-ordering, find out how to get your child involved! If they don’t, contact your school lunch program to find out how this important service can be offered! Pre-ordering school lunches offers a clear benefit to kids and schools alike.

Better Food Safety through Technology

Written by Milt Miller – As food service technology advances into the future, the ability to pre-order meals on-line will become increasingly more important. Food allergies are on the rise among school aged students. Anaphylaxis is the number one cause of death involving foods in young adults. As the number of young people with food allergies continues to grow, concerned parents and school administrators are searching for ways to make serving them safer. Our northern neighbors in Canada, appear to be leading the fight for developing rules and protocols making school and university food operations safer for students with food allergies. Sabrina’s law was, passed after the death of a thirteen year old, who had an anaphylactic incident at school during lunch. It is designed to protect students with food allergies by making sure all school boards have policies in place that address anaphylaxis. Allowing students and parents to select and order a meal ahead of time could provide staff ample time to prepare a safe and allergy free meal. Pre-ordering technology can assist in making school lunch safer.

Menus are posted on line allowing parents to see the nutritional make up of school food offerings. Meal monies can be paid in advance and budgeted by how many times a week a student will purchase breakfast or lunch. Reports are generated permitting parents to see what their students are actually purchasing and they can control what they purchase on line in real time. Student food allergy information appears on the cashier’s screen to insure student safety.

I am familiar with at least one school software company, which is already providing parents and students with the ability to pre-order menu items. Currently, what I have seen in this development process, is the ability to order single menu items ahead on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Pre-ordering of this nature would provide parents with the option to plan their child’s meals and avoid the confusion experienced by young children in a cafeteria line, when forced to make choices. At the middle and high school levels pre-ordering would allow meals to be picked up at a specific area and cut down on time standing in line. However, with a bit of tweaking, the ability to pre-order an entire allergy free, reimbursable meal is also available with this system. What a relief this could turn out to be for parents and school food professionals alike.

Parents would be able to pick allergen free meal choices that could be pre-ordered for their students. What a bonus that would be, especially at the K-5 level, to insure that safe meals would be served to their children on a regular basis, without having to worry about what they are actually choosing. School food workers would be able to produce these items first in an allergen free atmosphere, know what special products are needed, and insure that each child is getting safe meals. Whew!! What a relief as a parent and as a school food professional.

There is now the ability to post menus on-line listing which of the six major allergens, peanuts, tree nuts, lactose, gluten, eggs, and shell fish, are not present in the dish. There can also be low carbohydrate and high protein meals for children with diabetes. By utilizing this technology parents could safely make choices for their young students. The students could pick up their meals in a special area, as they would have been made ahead. What more could one ask for food safety and efficiency? Older students could pre-order these allergy free, safe meals and pick them up in a designated area too. Operators would know in advance what products were needed and how much to order, what a benefit. I have spoken with college food providers recently, who are exploring the same type of process to effectively deal with food allergies. As we move forward allergies will not be going away and the need to deal with them will continue to increase. Better labeling and packaging only go so far. Anaphylaxis is the leading killer in food bourn issues involving students of all ages.

I see a need to grow in the future to provide safe allergy free pre-ordering options. Several companies are on the cusp of making this pre-order option a reality and at least one is already making this technology available. I believe this is a major breakthrough not only for safety, but also for speed of service and production efficiency. What do you think?

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at;

Does Knowing Nutritional Information Help You Make Healthier Eating Choices?

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 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.

5 Emerging School Food Trends

Written by Milt Miller – Trends emerging in school food today get their origins from America’s health and nutrition conscious restaurants. Eateries, large and small local shops, and corporate chains that focus on healthy and fresh as well as kid friendly American and ethnic cuisines. The American Dairy Association (ADA), Farm to School Programs, and other champions of fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy, lend support to these popular new kid favorites. These emerging trends all involve several common themes that make them school food compliant and kid friendly. They all involve fresh ingredients, are or can be hand held, are customizable, provide choices, fast, and are colorful and produced in front of the customer. Made-to-order, fresh, gluten-free, nut-free, Grab n’ Go, whole grain, and healthy are the buzz words of America’s dining preferences.

Many of these new cuisines involve special equipment and special training to insure their success on a large scale, but with some thought and minor limitations of choice, these trends can breathe life into a stagnating breakfast or lunch program. Too often directors and their staffs jump into providing a popular trend item with little or no thought to how the product is best delivered in their operation. Limitations on equipment and basic skills needed are ignored to keep up with the emerging student desire for new trendy items.

A classic example of this is the increasing popularity of fruit and vegetable smoothies. These great tasting beverages meet several components of a reimbursable breakfast or lunch. They are nutritious, hand held, provide choices, made-to-order, gluten free, nut free, but “fast” gets lost in the shuffle and participation plummets. The ADA has provided funding for equipment (blenders), cups, recipes, and on-site support to make this great product available in school cafes. All participants in this process that I have spoken with, from staff to student customers, have shared that supply is many times overshadowed by demand and the speed of service goes out the window. The blenders specified and provided by ADA, at my last investigation make smoothies ten (10) at a time (1 Gallon). Great for a slow day, but with 400 students or more in a sitting this can be a real time and delivery drag. These are great for a specialty bar and an area with small participation, but for a high volume area this can be a disaster, creating frustration for both staff and students. Not to mention speed of service becomes non-existent.

My suggestion to making this trendy item a hit involves the spending of between $300 and $800. An immersion blender (Burr Mixer), allows staff to make smoothies in large quantities. By large I mean five (5) gallons or more at a time. Making two (2) or three (3) types of the most popular smoothies, pre-pouring them and making them part of a Grab n’ Go breakfast or lunch can make lines of service move much faster. Blenders can be set-up at a smoothie bar in another area, providing customizable choices and showing the made to order concept for those who don’t mind waiting. This system makes production and service easier for the staff and faster and more convenient for student customers. The immersion blender will pay for itself in a matter of weeks and can be used to make other concoctions for other fresh items. I have tried this with great results in several client operations.

Many of these trends don’t always work in school settings like they do in restaurants where people expect to wait a bit to be served. Many involve the major expense of a remodel or purchasing a major piece of equipment. A bit of thought and some minor changes to the concept can and will work well in most schools without a major cash outlay in the beginning.

Below I have listed several of the new hot trends coming to school food. Along with these items is a list of equipment and design considerations. Most call for major renovations and equipment purchases that many schools can’t afford or don’t have room for. With some creative thinking and some minor limitations any of the following can be made to work in most school cafes:

Fruit and vegetable smoothies

  • Equipment considerations: High-powered, noise-reducing blenders and extra green-colored chopping boards for prep work.
  • Design considerations: More countertop space for placing blenders on the serving line to make the action associated with making smoothies visual to the students; under-counter or added refrigeration can keep fresh fruits and veggies within reach of staff during busy periods; locate this task near a sink or water line for quick and easy cleaning between smoothie-making.

Authentic Mexican food 

  • Equipment considerations: High-powered blenders for made-from-scratch salsas; stock pots or combi ovens for braising proteins such as carnitas and barbacoa; flat-tops that staff can use to make quesadillas, tacos and burritos to order; tortilla presses and warmers.
  • Design considerations: Flexible equipment and workspaces that can accommodate Mexican and other foods; refrigerated sandwich prep tables for holding different ingredients that can allow students to build their own Mexican-inspired meal one day and sandwiches or build-your-own pizza the next.

Made-from-scratch pizza

  • Equipment considerations: High-powered gas ovens with aesthetic appeal or conveyor ovens in open view; pizza peels and dough presses.
  • Design: Refrigerated sandwich prep tables with different toppings for students to build their own pizza with the meats, cheeses and veggies they want.

Salads and Fruit

  • Equipment considerations: Extra cooler space and prep tables.
  • Design considerations: Expanded, build-your-own salad bars with fresh fruit options, proteins like hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas and tofu, and pre-made salads and other vegetable-forward dishes for faster grab-n-go and for younger children that might struggle with building their own meals.

Hand-Held Foods

  • Equipment considerations: Refrigerated grab-n-go display cases for pre-made sandwiches and wraps; hot-holding units for pizza slices, empanadas, breakfast sandwiches, tacos and other pre-made, hand-held items made just before the lunch rush.
  • Design considerations: Expanded grab-n-go, retail-like space and displays positioned so that students can bypass the main line.

These ideas can increase participation and add excitement to your school café. With a bit of creative thinking they are very doable in school settings. Consider the idea I have given you and if it works try another. If you need a bit of coaching, just let me know I would be happy to discuss implementation with you.

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at;

Help Parents Help Their Kids: Pre-Ordering Lunch Equals Healthier Choices

When you’re trying to encourage kids to make healthy choices for lunch, it can feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. Kids seem to naturally gravitate towards the least healthy choices, even when healthier fare is offered. With regulations regarding what foods kids need to choose in order for lunches to be paid for, it can feel like school administrators are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

New studies have shown an easy method for encouraging kids to make good choices that support their health, and your healthy lunch program!

Make choices before lunch time

When do you make the best choices for food? When you’re desperately hungry and smelling all your favorite, greasy smells, or when you’re relaxed and calm, thinking forward, but not all that hungry yet?

There’s a reason that adults are often told to go shopping after they eat, to plan meals ahead of time, to pack lunch from home. We make better, more considered choices about food before we’re hungry. When we’re already hungry, we crave quick energy, simple carbs, and the kinds of foods that don’t translate into long term fuel for our bodies.

Knowing this, schools in New York gave children the chance to pre-order their lunch choices. Without question, they found that a much larger percentage of kids chose healthier options when they were making their selections well before lunch time. 29 percent of kids chose a healthier lunch option when they could pre-order, versus just 15 percent when they needed to choose in the lunch line.

Help parents help their kids

One of the many considerations parents have when they choose a school for their child is the lunch program. Parents want their kids to be healthy, and want to know that the school will help support that parental mission.

There are many ways for kids to pre-order their lunches, from paper or online choices made at home, to choices made in the classroom. Younger children can be assisted by parents and teachers, while older kids can see this as an independent step. However your school chooses to implement lunch pre-orders, they result in healthier choices for kids, which means kids who are more prepared for school, have better energy levels, and have fewer disciplinary problems within school.

It’s amazing that one simple process, encouraging kids to pre-order their lunch, can have such a dramatic effect on their day, but the evidence so far is clear. Implement this process now, and see a dramatic improvement in the eating habits of kids.


To learn more about School Lunch Pre-Order Software, click here!