The Top 3 Training Topics for School Food Programs

Written by Milt Miller – The Final Rule on Professional Standards for School Food Professionals, has brought many needed training reforms for school food management and staff. These guidelines provide a benchmark for keeping food professionals up to date and growing in the knowledge areas necessary to perform their jobs within the new NSLP guidelines. The new guidelines mandate a prescribed number of training hours yearly for both management and staff. To comply with these guidelines the ruling provides many options for training; the three most requested programs, by our past and present clients, are Effectively Marketing Your Food Program, Purchasing and Procurement Techniques, and Understanding How to Use Production Records.

 

1. Effectively Marketing Your Food Program

Based on what we have seen while visiting schools, Marketing is the number one concern. School food professionals are very humble people, which is an admirable quality, but if they fail to let their student customers know what they are doing in their operations it can create a problem. Marketing a school food program is the weakest skill set we have observed. School food operators need direction in how to identify and reach their target markets in the manner they prefer to be reached. They also need to find the many free or inexpensive medias surrounding them in their schools that will effectively reach their students. Too often parents are not seen as a target market, but they make the final decision, most times, whether to buy at school or pack a lunch. We have shown many operators how to effectively reach and keep parents informed of the great things happening in their cafés.

Understanding and shaping the perceptions about your program is a critical piece of any marketing plan. Sending the proper message, by using the right medias to effectively reach students, parents, and the academic community within your school is key. Understanding and delivering menu items that meet today’s food trends and meet student needs, is also a key element of effective marketing for school food. Utilization of student focus groups, representation at parent gatherings, and keeping educators and administrators informed of program goals and offerings, are important factors in obtaining and sharing this information. The school cafés with whom we’ve worked have increased participation by as much as 15% in the first two weeks of implementing the skills illustrated and discussed in our training program.

 

2. How to effectively use Production Records

The second most requested topic for training is how to effectively use Production Records. This simple form has become an enigma to school food workers. The reason? An unclear understanding of the true purpose and value of this instrument. Production Records are not just a means of directing the work force or recording food usage, as is usually perceived by most café workers. This document is also a daily consolidation of necessary information for kitchen staff involving line set-up, HACCP processes and controls, meal item acceptability, cooking and holding temperature charts, portion control, and waste control. From the management side it is a great record of menu acceptability, meal identification verification, inventory control, commodity usage, per student nutrient analysis, actual cost per meal per day, and provides most of the dietary information necessary for on-site audits.

After raising the awareness of staff on the importance of this document and how simple it is to use properly, the results that usually occur are a 3-5% decrease in food cost, 10% decrease in waste, and a 10% increase in productivity. The training is about four hours, but the results in schools where we have conducted the training have been robust. Once an understanding of the purpose of this document is attained the procedures take no more than a calculator a POS items report and a pencil to complete.

 

3. Procurement and Ordering Techniques

The third most requested training is Procurement and Ordering Techniques. This has come to the forefront recently with the implementation of Policy 2 CFR 200, the policy on procurement for school nutrition operations. The regulations have always been there, but now the current administration, FNS, and USDA has decided it is time to enforce them and tie them to the administrative audit every three years. Though the regulations have changed very little, the enforcement piece is causing every SFA to be much more aware of them. We expect this training program to soar right to the top of the most wanted list in the next few months.

Basically all procurement is broken down to three types. Micro-Purchases, meaning less than $3,500, Informal Purchases, which is greater than $3,500 but less than $10,500 for non-perishables or greater than $10,500 but less than $150.000 For perishable items, meaning food. And last but not least, Formal Purchases, equal to or more than $150,000, which require either an IFB or RFP bidding process. Regulations and necessary forms can be obtained at www.ecfr.gov, or by contacting your local state Department of Education. Every food program must have its own Food Service Account that provides a clear audit trail of all revenues and expenditures. Coupled with each type of expenditure must be a procurement explanation as to why this purchase was made and how it fits with the School Codes for Procurement. The entire process is not difficult, but it is cumbersome and can be confusing. Many of our clients are frantically seeking clarity and a condensed, more understandable version of the guidelines. Most states are conducting mass webinars to explain the new procurement processes and the audits that will follow. I would suggest attending these for the overview, then conducting small group sessions with a credible trainer for the major details. We have geared our programs to assist in gaining a better understanding of the process.

As you can readily see, the face of school food is rapidly changing and a much higher level of administrative proficiency is required than in past years. If training in these top three areas is available, it is well worth the investment to seek it. Do not be left in the wake of these new rules wondering, “What can I do now?”.

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. 

What Can Cafeterias Learn From Chipotle?

Over the last several months, the food service world has been rocked by revelations about the unsafe food practices that caused multiple outbreaks of food-borne illness, all originating from Chipotle. Between 1990 and 2004, over 11,000 cases of food-borne illness resulted from school cafeterias; the numbers resulting from restaurants are less clear. What we do know, however, is that when people get sick from food that they’re served, the consequences can be dire. So how should the industry react? What can be done?

Maintain the Best in Food Handling Protocols

How does your kitchen handle raw meat? Vegetable washing? Do people in the kitchen regularly wash their hands and use appropriate precautions? Are foods thawed responsibly and kept in safe temperature zones?

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy and safe kitchen is knowing both what needs to be done, and who is accountable for doing it.

Encourage Both Health Inspections and Self Inspections for Food Safety

Sometimes those in the food service industry look on health inspections or self reviews regarding food safety either with irritation, or total fear. Instead, train your staff to look at inspections and reviews as an opportunity to do better. As the Chipotle situation shows, we can believe that we’ve got everything under control when there is in fact a great deal of room for improvement.

Know Your Pathogens

Your kitchen probably has first aid instructions for cuts and burns posted, right? What about the three foods most likely to cause food-borne illness? Poultry, leafy greens, and melons are all foods which have a higher than average chance of causing illness, through improper washing, improper freezing or thawing, or improper cooking. By training your staff to handle these foods with extra care, you can go a long way towards keeping your customers healthy and avoiding food-borne illness.

It’s important not to be scared about food safety. Just like handling sharp knives and kitchen tools, fear makes you more likely to mishandle things and hurt yourself or others. Ultimately, the instructions that need to be followed to keep everyone safe are fairly simple to implement. Making sure freezers stay at the right temperatures, that foods are used within appropriate time frames, and that cross-contamination is avoided will go a long way. A great inventory system helps you to keep track of what’s in your kitchen, and good food safety protocols help to make sure your food is delicious.

Think Outside the Box When Marketing Your School Food Program

Written by Milt Miller – More and more school districts across the country, both managed and self-operating, are reporting declines in lunch sales due to the HHFKA guidelines. In reviewing the menus posted on these school’s websites, one quickly sees that though the guidelines have changed, their selections of entrees have changed very little (with the exception of adding beans and colored vegetables in a way their students do not understand). In replacing acceptable products with their healthier whole grain and low sodium alternatives, they have traded meeting the guidelines with serving products foreign to their customers’ taste profiles. A pizza with whole grain crust is a completely different creature than the old white flour pizza of the past. A salad made with romaine or spinach is quite different than the one made with iceberg lettuce. In trying to meet regulations, some school food operations have just substituted the new healthier replacement products for the tried and true products students understand and have eaten for years without considering the differences in taste profiles and textures.

Without investigation, the results of this change have produced less than stellar numbers in participation. In low income schools especially, operators are finding it hard to even give the food away. Waste is high and participation has declined even with students who qualify for a free or reduced meal. Most of these operators have the same reason for the drop in participation and the increase in waste: “the HHFKA guidelines”. Other reasons include: “the kids don’t like the new offerings”, “they don’t like whole grains”, “they won’t eat the fruits and vegetables being forced on them”, and the number one reason heard most, “The students don’t get as much food with the HHFKA guidelines.” My question when I read these statements is, how have other schools shown an increase in participation and decrease in waste using the same set of rules and products?

The answer to these problems as I see it? Marketing. Successful program directors educate their patrons, survey them about what they want from their food program, listen to what their student customers say, include them in shaping their program, and most importantly make their operations exciting for their customers. Think about it; children are nothing more than small adults that lack experience, but are being shaped by what they experience. How would adults react to being told what they could and could not eat and what they had to take in order to have a proper lunch? How many children see their parents eat balanced meals on a regular basis? How many families exist on convenience food high in fat and sodium in today’s two income households? To force people to act in a manner abnormal to them without answering the “why” question and showing them the benefit to doing so is setting up for failure. Educating students on the benefits of making healthy choices is key to initial acceptance. Taking this further by looking at their current eating habits and food trends aimed at their market is crucial to having a successful program. This is still America and we teach our children that they have the right to make choices. As food service professionals, we have the ability to shape those choices by providing acceptable products to our customers. If we don’t try to give our customers what they want and expect, we will lose them. Many school food programs have neglected to do this and are paying the price with large deficits.

When asked if they went out in the community and looked at what their patrons were eating outside the school, most of the operators experiencing problems now answer “no”. Most successful operators answered “yes” and said they found a way to offer these same products using healthier ingredients. Most programs have student advisory groups that give them insights into the wants of their customers. Successful programs actually listen to them and make them feel like wanted members of the program instead of outsiders. Operators who are visible, approachable, and open to their customers have a higher success rate than those who are not. Operators who take the time and effort to make school lunch exciting and students feel welcome have higher participation than those who don’t.

In most areas where I’ve had the opportunity to work with schools who sought to fix their participation issues, marketing their program was the key issue. You can’t force anyone to eat something they do not want without the use of force. Since force feeding is not an option, perhaps it is time for operators to expand their comfort zones to get out and see what their patrons want. I read the other day a school food professional said, “You can’t go by what the students say about their lunch program because they don’t give you honest answers.” This made me wonder if the answers were not honest or just not what someone wanted to hear. This was also a program experiencing a major drop in participation and thus, revenue.

To sum it all up, it’s time for school food operators to listen and think outside the box on how to deliver a product that their patrons want while staying within the HHFKA guidelines. These guidelines show no sign of going away soon so it’s time to find ways to make them work for your program. The revenues depend on it.

 

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.

National School Breakfast Week: March 7-11, 2016

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.

Start Preparing for Next School Year

Written by Milt Miller – April is just around the corner! Take some time now to think about the training and enrichment needed by your staff. What are the problem areas of this school year as a whole? Are these problem areas due to a lack of training? Make a list of current issues and look at how improved training and communication can alleviate them. I used to give my staff a short quiz each year to assess the areas where we were weak as a program and would plan my training and enrichment around those weaknesses.

The implementation of the Final Rule on Professional Standards for Food Service Professionals now makes these trainings mandatory; so why not put this mandatory training to good use? Six (6) hours of training are required per year for fulltime and four (4) hours for part time staff. There are many areas required by these new rules that will help to overcome the knowledge gaps that hurt program performance. Customer service, marketing, proper use of standardized recipes and production records, cooking techniques, and proper handling of product to insure top quality are just a few areas that many programs take for granted or have skipped completely in the past. One of the most overlooked areas is meal identification and this one hurts most programs financially every year.

Take a long hard look at you staff’s needs and select programming that will help them and your operation grow. There are state programs available like the Train the Trainer Program that will teach directors and managers how to train their staff. I know, you are so busy you just can’t spare the time for training. Well how can you afford not to and now it’s mandatory! Many state departments of education have already developed curriculums for these training issues. Look into using what is available to save yourself time developing your own program. Why reinvent the wheel? “Still can’t find the time,” you say. Then why not look to an outside source like a consultant or professional trainer or chef? You can’t keep putting training on the back burner it is a requirement now. “My program is small and can’t afford the cost of a consultant or trainer,” is the most often used excuse for failing to develop one’s staff.

A properly trained and informed staff saves food operations a great deal of money and increases revenues normally lost due to lack of knowledge. Most training fees are absorbed by improved cost efficiencies and service delivery due to having a more informed and professional staff. You have to spend money on occasion to make money. Pick the areas that have hurt revenues or caused waste in the past and make them go away by improving the skills and knowledge of your staff. If your district is small, co-op with other districts in your area and host a group training session. Split the cost among the districts involved. Many times getting a professional from the outside lends credibility to the presentation. It isn’t that you don’t tell the staff the same things as the trainer, but it’s the way it’s presented and they feel important that they are getting special training. This tends to cause them to pay closer attention. It’s kind of like being a parent, your kids don’t think you know anything and an outsider knows more than you. I used to get my neighbor to tell my daughter things that I wanted her to know. She would then come home and say, “Hey Mr. Jones told me this, isn’t that a great idea?” I was just happy she got the message and accepted it. It didn’t matter to me who told her.

However you plan to train your staff doesn’t matter. What matters is that you take the time to train them. A well informed staff that understands what they are doing will save and make additional money for your food program. If they feel important and are treated as professionals, they will act professionally. Don’t let upgrading the knowledge of your staff get swept under the rug again this year. Take time to plan and present well thought out enrichment programs that will enable them do their jobs and are pertinent to what they do. I assure you the results will yield a smoother and more profitable year.

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.

Free School Meals – Ensuring that All Children Are Able to Learn

Good nutrition is at the heart of learning. Studies show that, not only do students need a good breakfast and lunch for health reasons, but they also perform better on important standardized tests and assignments when they have a healthy meal. In contrast, brain functions slow down and are impeded by improper nutrition, junk food and poor food choices. So parents often turn to schools to offer the nutrition their child needs to excel.

The Problem with Lunch Programs of the Past

Free lunches and reduced-priced meals have been available to kids in public schools for some time. The problem was that only a select group of kids actually qualified for the free lunches. Many parents are low-income but fall just above the cut-off for such programs, yet still have struggles paying the amount charged by schools for daily lunches. For parents with multiple children in school, this can become a daily expense that they cannot afford.

Is Free Breakfast Enough?

Some schools have begun implementing free breakfast programs, in an effort to increase the involvement level of parents to get their kids started right in the morning. However, offering free breakfast is not enough. Many kids need free lunches as well, but their parents often do not know that they qualify, or they are not educated on what to do to get this going for their child.

Community-based Free Lunches

President Obama’s new free lunch program is out to change that. The legislation relies on the criteria of “community eligibility,” rather than individual need. Based on the general needs of the community in which the children live and attend school, free lunches are offered to low-income children.

This federal provision was made available as of the 2014-15 school year. It is now available for low-income communities with children who attend school but cannot afford lunch at the regular prices. It offers children 2 meals per school day: breakfast and lunch, which increases the chances of success in learning even more.

What to Do to Take Advantage of the New Program

Parents of communities need only to contact their local school districts to see if their area qualifies. Regarding school lunches, specific requirements are now much easier to reach than in previous legislative actions. The President’s new ruling opens the doors to many who had gone without proper nutrition in the past and makes it easier than ever to get nutrition to kids who need it the most.