Lunch Time, not Crunch Time: Tips to Increase the Speed of School Lunch Lines

Is your goal to cut down the time it takes to pay for lunches served in your school cafeteria? Faster lunch lines have become a priority for schools as they contend with overcrowding and shorter lunch periods to increase class time and boost students’ scores.

Schools also face pressure to incorporate more fresh produce into their lunch menu. This makes faster lunch lines vital, especially because sometimes, eating fresh, healthy foods takes longer than eating prepackaged or processed foods that are ready to eat. Chewing an apple, for example, takes much longer than slurping down sugary applesauce.

Faster cafeteria lines promote healthy lunch choices, especially when kids know they have the time to finish the food they purchase. Longer lunch lines, in contrast, leave little time for eating and seem to be an ideal way to mint lifelong customers for the fast-food industry.

There are many ways to use technology to increase the speed of the cafeteria lunch line, like adding the schools lunch menu online for parents to pre-order a student’s lunch, or using a hand-held point of sale (POS) unit. Collecting, tracking, and using the appropriate data with the right online system can make a huge difference.

Flexible POS

A flexible School Payment software and a cafeteria Point-of-Sale (POS) system eliminates the need for ticket and cash systems, allowing lunch lines to move more quickly while freeing up time for staff to focus on other pressing tasks.

Accepting payments through an online School Payment Software system can increase the speed of school lunch lines drastically. Allowing parents and schools to manage students’ school lunch accounts online means students don’t slow down the line paying with cash. Parents can make secure deposits, pre-order meals, and pay school fees all through an online school payment software system.

Using a hand-held POS unit, designed specifically for cafeterias, has everything needed to quickly get students, employees or customers through cafeteria lines.

Allows for centralized reporting.

Keeping all cafeteria data in a centralized system allows food service managers to better manage their food service operations. With access to a centralized system of lunch data, schools can better prepare for food allergies, identify food preferences, and find healthy alternatives that kids will eat.

Patterns in lunch consumption can also help schools spot trends and preferences, which leads to more informed decisions regarding child behavior, academic performance, and more.

Increase Revenues.

When students don’t have to deal with cash or ordering at lunch time, the lunch line moves faster and more students are served. The greater the number of students served, the higher the revenue for the school.

Increase Reimbursements and Cash Flow.

Whether students receive a subsidized lunch or pay for their lunch, a system that tracks lunch data allows schools to better manage the reimbursements and reduce the number of unpaid lunch accounts.

Reduces waste.

With more accurate tracking of sales, schools get better inventory controls which minimizes waste and gives them more accurate data to reduce food waste and spoilage.

 

Our School Lunch Software and portable POS unit provides everything a school needs to quickly get students through cafeteria lines. For pricing or more details, call 1 (800) 425-1425 or email us at sales@foodserve.com.

10 Reasons Many School Food Programs are Operating in the Red

Written by Milt Miller – School Nutrition Programs nationwide are struggling to stay in the black. Many are not succeeding, showing deficits in excess of $100K or more. The amounts of “Red Ink” spilling from school food programs since 2010 is astounding. To what can this be attributed? The new guidelines? High amounts of plate waste? Significant decreases in participation? Large amounts of unpaid lunch accounts? Increased cost of compliance? There are as many reasons, excuses, and theories as there are stars in the heavens, but it all boils down to ten main reasons why school food programs are bleeding.

In my experiences working with school nutrition programs, that are struggling to become self-sustaining, I find a combination of the following ten reasons why they are in the red.

  1. Outdated Labor Models, resulting in unmanageable salary and benefit costs.
  2. Outdated Menu Offerings, that no longer meet student customer expectations.
  3. Lack of Sound Purchasing and Procurement Procedures, resulting in excessive plate costs.
  4. Ineffective Marketing, resulting in students and parents not knowing what is being offered and what is happening in the café.
  5. Noncompliant or Nonexistent Charge Policies, resulting in high amounts of unpaid lunch accounts.
  6. Underutilization of Available Technology, resulting in poor tracking and reporting procedures, that hamper the making of informed decisions.
  7. Underdeveloped Food Handling, Customer Service, and Meal Recognition Skills, resulting in decreased participation and revenues.
  8. Ineffective Free and Reduced Meals Application Procedures, also resulting in increased unpaid lunch accounts and loss of federal and state funding.
  9. Adopting or Dropping out of a Federally Funded Program without Sufficient Research, resulting in the loss of unrecoverable revenue sources.
  10. (And this is the most significant reason) Inability to Admit there Is a Problem, resulting in continued deficits year after year.

Most of these issues go unnoticed because administrators have become desensitized. Being in their operations day in and day out they just don’t see the eminent danger to their programs, until it’s too late. Once they start to see the deficits pile up many times they are in denial and don’t want to admit they have a problem. Many times it takes a set of fresh eyes to see what is really happening. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are our revenues steadily decreasing?
  • Is there a significant amount of unpaid lunch accounts? 
  • Are food costs above 38% of sales?
  • Are Labor Costs above 52%? 

If you have answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you have a potential unimagined problem. The next three questions can mean the difference in bleeding red or getting back on track.

  1. What is my next step? 
  2. Can I handle this myself? 
  3. Where can I get help? 

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; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

Improving Child Nutrition and Integrity Act of 2016

Has the Last Apple been Thrown in this Food Fight?

Written by Milt Miller – The Senate Agriculture Committee has agreed to roll back some issues in the National School Lunch Program’s Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 guidelines, on Wednesday, January 20, 2016, in a show of true bi-partisan politics and compromise. The changes in the proposed re-authorization of the National School Lunch Act, that will provide some increased flexibility for schools to plan menus that will be more acceptable to our nation’s students, are the result of the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) continued lobbying on behalf of its member schools nationwide. Without the continued efforts of the SNA to present common sense concerns and rational solutions, on behalf of its constituents, I fear no improvements would have come about.

By pointing out the flaws in this needed but over regulated act, SNA provided actual facts and first hand observations from within the industry, to show what wasn’t working as well as providing workable solutions without greatly hampering the Act’s intent and purpose. Though hotly criticized by the medical professionals, child nutrition activists, and the White House, SNA held fast to its position and the position of its members. Aligning with the newly elected Republican Congress allowed for necessary leverage to achieve this compromise, without which no change would have been affected.

The SNA position, stated unwaveringly over the past five years, has been one of softening issues hampering school food operation’s self-sustainability and one of improving the wellbeing of America’s school children. Never once had they lobbied for the repeal or rollback of the entire program, as they have been accused by their critics. Again, thank you SNA.

As everyone is aware, the true sense of compromise is everyone wins and everyone loses. In the case of this bi-partisan compromise, it appears that one side has maintained more of the original Act and the other side has gotten some small, but necessary changes. Looking at the proposed legislation going before the Senate and the House in the near future, there appears to be some needed roll backs in the percentage of whole grains that must be offered and a hold on the sodium restrictions for at least two more years. These changes are definitely a step in the right direction and do provide some needed flexibility, but in no way do they ease the burden of increased cost and increased waste created by the implementation of the original act and its continued additional restrictions over the past five years. This compromise appears to be more of an offer of an olive branch rather than an attempt to fix the inequities in the program for the sustainability of school lunch operations.

Granted the roll back of the requirement on whole grains from 100% to 80% provides added flexibility in menu development and the provision of products students find more acceptable. Pushing back the sodium restrictions for at least another two years will allow many favorite items to remain on the menu, but nothing really has been done to address the increased cost of compliance, increased waste, or acceptable revisions to the Smart Snacks in Schools regulations.

An olive branch again has been offered in the waste situation, as the Secretary of Agriculture is directed by this act, to conduct studies to eliminate waste of fruits and vegetables through the increased use of salad bars and share tables. Both of these service models are deemed by the health departments of some states as unsafe food handling practices. Salad bars can create waste due to overproduction, poor rotation of product, and contamination, and share tables are collection areas for unwanted products that can be taken and consumed by individuals desiring extra portions of those products during the meal period. What if no one wants them? What if these foods become contaminated or are tampered with and a food borne illness is contracted from consuming them? Where does the liability lie? I do not believe this is an adequate solution to the waste issue. Addressing the increased cost issue was totally passed over as expected. The Secretary has been directed to appoint a committee to assess the Smart Snack guidelines and make recommendations for acceptable products to be allowed. This is a step in the right direction.

Increased funding for Summer Food Programs, facility upgrades, increased technology, and staff development have remained intact, the CRE or every three year state review of school food programs has been moved back to every five years, and the words “Buy American” have been added to the development of future procurement and purchasing requirements. Outside of a few other changes in language the act has remained intact.

Please do not interpret my comments as unappreciative or ungrateful. I am grateful for what changes and revisions have been made. They were necessary. I am thankful for SNA”s diligence in pushing for the flexibility and improvements that have been penned into this proposed bi-partisan legislation. I know that SNA will be supportive of these improvements and keep working to influence further improvements in the future. I just hope that this is not the last apple thrown in the food fight to improve child nutrition regulations.

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; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

2015: The Year of Healthier School Meals

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, more than 97 percent of American schools report that they currently meet the school meal standards. The current standards promote whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein, and recommend less sugar and salt.

Schools across the country are finding creative, sustainable, and affordable ways to provide healthier meals for students.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) was passed in 2010, but it was phased in over several years, finally going completely into effect in 2014. The program helps to fund healthy meals for students in low income areas for the next five years.

Updated Nutrition Standards

As part of the HHFKA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the school meal standards. They went into effect in 2012, and by 2015, most schools report compliance. The new standards require cafeterias to offer healthier options, like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting salt and sugar.

Vending Machine Regulations

In addition to school meals, the HHFKA also led to healthier snack options for students. That means a lot of schools switched from soda to water and from candy bars to snack mixes and other healthy options.

Team Nutrition

Team Nutrition is a USDA program that offers help to schools through Team Nutrition Training Grants, training, resources, and nutrition education lessons. In 2015, the Wisconsin Team Nutrition used their funding to create a contest for middle school and high school students. The healthy cooking competition is a way to get students interested in healthy meals and teach them how to make their own healthy meals.

Sustainability and Farm to School

Sustainability is another major movement of 2015, and when combined with schools, can be an opportunity for education, affordable food and a nutrition boost. In an effort to offer students healthier meal options, some schools across the nation have started their own vegetable gardens, cared for by students. All vegetables can be used in school lunches, providing a cost-effective and healthy alternative to processed meals.

Fuel Up to Play 60

Another USDA project, Fuel up to Play 60 combines exercise with healthy eating by promoting nutrition in school as a way to fuel the body. The goal is to encourage a healthier lifestyle, not just healthy meals.