The Low Hanging Fruit

Quick… name a school that doesn’t need more money?

Yes, it is a pretty obvious trick question… as there are no schools that don’t need more funding. The Herculean challenges of providing the greatest education value for the lowest tax funding prompt an endless search for grants, savings and additional revenue streams. We want to offer an avenue that more and more schools are discovering to their significant advantage:  Point of Sale integrated, school customized automatic merchandising retail computers… or the somewhat more common definition: Hi-tech vending machines that can sell reimbursable meals and snacks, healthy ala carte 24-7 and even school supplies.

The cost-benefit valuation is quite extreme… with benefits including more meal sales, substantial but healthy food and beverages access to students after they finish their afternoon extra-curricular activities, keeping them safe on campus, and a new revenue stream that can add tens of thousands of new net income to a single school. There are even educational benefits available such as using Special Education students for restocking or an FFA, DECA or FBLA school chapter to either partner with Food Services of operate these automatic computerized healthy school stores independently.

The foundational reason why a school earns at least 500% more from self-operation of specialty school vending machines (as opposed to the traditional tiny commissions from an outsourced vending company) is that schools don’t suffer with all the expenses of an outsourced vending company. Schools get the keep the income a vending company would have used to pay for their:

•  Off-campus warehouse & warehouse personnel

•  Those $45,000 route trucks and the route drivers with all their labor costs

•  The fuel, maintenance, insurance for this warehouse, vehicles and personnel

•  The owner’s profits

•  The federal & state income taxes that vending company would have to pay.

All of those expenses become school profits when school vending services are internalized… just like Food Services, facilities maintenance, IT management, etc.

That significant difference is only the beginning. It gets better. One of the problems with using an outsourced vending service is that their machines will have to be at least 50% empty before they can even afford to send people to restock them. Their profit is directly related to how much money is collected each time they restock. If the machine is empty, then they make a very high profit in relation to their restocking costs. Yet this is extremely inconvenient to the students and staff at the school being serviced so poorly. Schools can restock their own machines as frequently as needed with little or no cost, such as offering students the job credits for restocking the school vending machines. This is why schools who self operate their vending machines enjoy far higher sales than the outsourced vending machines they replaced… simply because they are restocked more regularly.

Another very significant issue is that no outsourced vending company is going to offer fresh, perishable foods in their vending machines. Yet school operated machines can easily put fresh, cafeteria baked cookies and muffins into their vending machines. They can easily sell for a lot less due to the lower product cost compared to commercially packaged cookies and muffins that cost double and carry a far higher carbon footprint due to the vast distances these products must travel to get into the school vending machines. Why not sell fresh cut fruit cups (with a taped spoon) or fresh fruit yogurt parfaits, cereal, six inch subs or Jamwiches/Uncrustables or sandwich wraps or your own trail mix recipe in a sealed bag? We will even give you a free packaging system.

We’re still not done with the significant reasons why schools can so dramatically increase their vending income by self-operation. You can integrate your vending machines with your School Lunch POS program so that students and staff don’t even need cash to buy healthy, substantial food, snacks and beverages. Experience documents that this cash-free payment option not only doubles school vending sales but also speeds up the lunch lines as this bleeds off ala carte only student customers who are willing to wait in line to use their parents money.

The impressive advantages for school self-operated vending is low hanging fruit just waiting for harvest. We can even offer a very popular municipal lease/purchase option that doesn’t require any deposit, an annual cancellation privilege at budget renewal points, no prepayment penalties, and no ballon payment at the conclusion of the lease to own the machine. We even have local technicians in every market that will set up each machine, train those who will operate the machines and provide support when and if needed.  This is truly a “low hanging fruit” income, nutrition and education opportunity.

POS integrated vending frequently increases total Food Service sales in a school by 15-20% annually. Click here to get started!

8 Steps to Lowering Unpaid Lunch Bills

Written by Milt Miller – As sure as death and taxes unpaid lunch bills will always exist in schools under the current systems. Of late these unpaid accounts are creating quite a stir in the media. Administrators are trying to get costs under control, but are looking like heartless uncaring individuals in the news. School food service professionals do care about feeding children first but also have to control costs in order to have a sustainable operation from which to feed them. Under the new guidelines schools that are at least 40% free lunch eligible based on direct certification may opt to employ the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) to allow all students, enrolled in their districts, a free breakfast and lunch.  

This program has some bugs involving state and federal funding issues, but many have been resolved and others are being worked on. For schools that this program applies too and benefits, it is a great opportunity. The potential for eliminating paperwork and unpaid account balances is fantastic. Schools that qualify should definitely examine adopting this program. What about schools that do not qualify? They are still subject to the same problems they have had in the past, expired benefits, due to families not submitting a new Free and Reduced Lunch Application, resulting in unpaid balances and interruption of services. Bad press for denying students a school lunch for excessively low account balances follows on the heels of this situation.

Schools that do not qualify for CEP or those not wanting to implement it for other reasons, can employ any or all of these eight (8) steps to potentially lower and better manage unpaid lunch bills.

  1. Obtain information from your current Free and Reduced Lunch software showing whose meal benefits will expire in mid-October each year. This report should be updated and generated weekly from the beginning of the school year until the week before the cut-off in October. This will allow you to track the progress of your program to get these applications in on time.
  2. Communicate to parents and school principals who will lose benefits from failure to submit a new application weekly. Letting parents know they will lose benefits will cause a greater return earlier. Letting principals know and get an opportunity to assist with the calling of parents protects their Title 1 monies as well as grant and aid levels determined by F&R percentages.
  3. Calls weekly increase the chance of higher returns. The more you or your principals remind parents, the better chance of higher returns and less loss of benefits.  
  4. Send Free and Reduced Applications home with the students in danger of losing meal benefits after each call. Things get lost or miss placed easily. The more you keep the issue in front of families in danger of losing benefits the more it helps you.
  5. Offer special evenings to review and assist with the filling out and submitting applications. You will be surprised how this helps. People who have trouble reading and writing often fail to submit applications for just that reason.
  6. Use single family multiple child forms, but set the parameters of your software to show all enrolled student with a common address and phone number. This allows you to peer match. Many times low income parents do not list all of their children enrolled in the district. This will allow you to include these students living in that household and not listed on the application.
  7. Meet with parents of all students in feeder systems such as Head Start to explain and assist with the application process.  As Ben Franklin said,An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” If you work with increasing communication at registration you increase participation in the long run.
  8. Constant communication and persistence lead to success. Keeping the issue in front of everybody insures greater returns and lower unpaid bills.

We have employed this system in several school districts and have witnessed the results to be Free and Reduced percentages in the beginning of the year to be closer to those at the end of the year, lower loss of meal benefits for students, higher levels of grants and aid all year long, and lower unpaid bill totals. These eight (8) simple steps have worked wonders in the schools we have used them in.

Milt Miller is Director of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc. 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.foodserve.com/school-food-program-assessment.html.

4 Steps for Marketing Next School Year’s Food Program

Written by Milt Miller – Menus are ready and meet the guidelines. Employee trainings and meetings are scheduled and planned. Free and Reduced Meal Applications and instructions are at the printer. The first week’s food orders are ready to go. Student accounts are ready to be added, purged, and rolled forward in the POS. Inventories have been taken, extended, and ready for next year. Staff recall notices are ready to be sent and their schedules are ready to post. Policy changes and the first month’s menus are ready to be sent to parents. Preventative maintenance projects are completed. Wow, you are thinking, “I’m good, I’m ready to go and its only July!” The real question is, are you really ready?

Most school food directors would say yes. Many would tell you that this process is automatic and they can do it in their sleep. Some would already be on a secluded beach somewhere relaxing. Some however, would be planning ways to get their customers excited and ready to jump back into the world of school food. These few would be those with the most consistently successful programs. Too many times we get caught up in the ongoing struggle to be compliant and forget the customer has been away and has most likely forgotten us. While compliance is required, without customers it is relatively meaningless. The most compliant, organized, and prepared operation without customer interest and participation, is nothing more than an empty shell.

Let’s face facts, students take time to shake off the haze of summer fun and get back into the structure of another school year. They aren’t looking forward to returning to the world of rules, regulations, and academia. They walk through the doors, on the first day, like the zombies from the “Living Dead” and remain in that state for at least two weeks after Labor Day. The real question is; can your program wait to see any real growth in participation until October? Your marketing strategies, developed and acted on before opening day could just be the spark necessary to turn the zombies to human form again!

Marketing is one of the most overlooked areas in school food. As operators we get so caught up in the rules we forget who we are there to serve. People like to feel part of things. They like to be kept informed and in the know. They are drawn by excitement. Students are people, though we sometimes forget that and treat them like sheep that need to be prodded and herded, with little or no regard to their needs and expectations. Its hard to be young and excitable. We forget this too often as we become adults. Being forced to follow rules and perform all day is bad enough, but when your only oasis in this sea of forced servitude (the school café’) is also filled with more rules and regulations, why participate? Many times we as operators treat our student customers like mushrooms. We keep them in the dark, on what great things we are doing, and expect them to happily eat whatever we tell them to eat. Would that excite you?

Marketing is the sizzle that sells the steak, the excitement that fills the room, and the concepts that meet their needs and keep them coming back again and again. Too often we overlook its importance and then wonder why our program is losing money. Developing and implementing an effective marketing strategy can be accomplished by following several steps. Below are my key steps to effective marketing.

  1. Promote when it is needed not just to say you did something. Use your monthly POS sales reports to determine patterns of low or slow participation. These times are usually from the end of August to October, from November to January, and the last week of May through the last day of the school year. Plan promotions and special days during these slow times to create excitement and generate participation.
  2. Don’t Keep it to yourself, let customers know what you have planned in advance. Develop your plans then let your customers know what you are doing. Reach students through the medias they use, email, texts, social media, and signs in areas they frequent. Send flyers home to parents, post events on your website, and text a list of special event to parents also. Send flyers to teachers, administrators, and board members, add these promotions to your board reports or request time at a board meeting to discuss them. Let everyone who is touched by your program know the exciting new things you are doing. Create excitement by letting everyone know.
  3. You can’t be great on your own, involve your staff. Share these marketing ideas with your staff and get them excited that something new is happening. The worst thing is to have a great promotion that staff members can’t enjoy with your customers. Think of a restaurant you have gone to and inquired about one of their special promotions, only to find your server knew nothing about it and didn’t suggest or inform you of what was being promoted. What a letdown. This happens with many school food promotions also. If your staff isn’t excited your customers won’t be either.
  4. Vendors and manufacturers make great partners. Involve the companies you work with, they bring added excitement to the mix. Ask for small prizes, posters or decorations that promote the products or the events. Most companies have these types of items built into their marketing budgets, so utilize them. Invite manufacturer and vendor representatives to be part of the promotion. The more new faces and bells and whistles, the greater the excitement. Remember, the more advanced notice and planning time you give your vendors the more they can and will help. Don’t wait until a week before the event to ask.

Utilizing these simple steps, you can develop and implement an effective marketing plan to bolster excitement and participation in your program. Take a little more time before heading out for a well-deserved break. You will be glad you did.

Milt Miller is Director of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc. 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.foodserve.com/school-food-program-assessment.html.

5 Reflections on Another School Year’s Closing

June has arrived and with it comes the end of another school year. For students, it is a time for fun and relaxation. For school food service professionals, it is a time to review, re-evaluate, and re-tool for next year. For me, it has been a year of discovery. This year has presented me the opportunity to discover several self-evident truths, within our industry, that if over looked, as they often are, cause food programs to fail. I have seen the same recurring sequences of events at many school food programs we visited this year. All are deep in red ink, with no idea how they got there. Administrators, boards, and food service directors are all asking each other the same question, why isn’t this working, we have done everything we were supposed to? We have instituted the new guidelines and we are compliant. We have joined a purchasing consortium and have great pricing. We have upgraded our equipment and remodeled our cafes, why are we still seeing six figure losses? Perhaps your answer lies buried in the self-evident truths we discovered over and over this year. Hopefully, your answer lies in the paragraphs below.

1. New Products Don’t Fit in Old Packaging
Changing tastes and trends require re-thinking how products must be presented to meet student needs and expectations. Yesterday’s sandwich is today’s wrap or flatbread. Yesterday’s sit down meal is today’s grab n go breakfast or lunch. Cultures and times have changed and many school food operators have failed to keep pace, with these changes. New healthier whole grain products require different methods of preparation and handling to produce acceptable results. Programs who fail to make the leap to meeting today’s student expectations, soon find their participation has dwindled.

2. A House Out of Plumb Will Soon Fall Down
All things shift over time. Needs change and what once was a necessity is now a stumbling block. Structures sag, frameworks bend, and sand shifts. Labor contracts, job descriptions, and labor models are much the same, as they are the frame work of the operation. Over time operational needs change and costs increase. Many operations, we visited this year had a labor model from another age when more actual hands on cooking was required. Most of their staff worked 6-7.5 hours per day, received full benefits and retirement, and followed job descriptions that were no longer relevant to the work being performed. Time had moved on, needs had changed, costs increased, but the framework remained the same and was showing signs of wear from the shifting demands placed on it. This was resulting in low productivity, a lack of understanding of the necessary work expected, and astronomical labor costs. Staff had no real understanding of what was expected of them, levels of service had declined, and labor costs, in many cases were above 65%. When asked why workers were performing tasks in a specific manner the answer was consistent from administrators, food service directors, and staff, “that is how we have always done it.” If this sounds like your operation and you do not have an HR professional on staff, seek help from an HR consultant soon. This can be the cause of huge losses for your organization unless they are fixed.

3. Computer Software and Calculators Only Work if You Know What Information You Want
Visiting school food operations throughout the year, we found most if not all, equipped with great Point of Sale (POS), Free and Reduced Eligibility tracking, and accounting software. Operators had their numbers at their fingertips. The major

issue here was that most of these high-tech operators didn’t know basic numbers that are crucial to the success and sustainability of their programs. They knew their participation numbers, labor percentage, food cost, Free and Reduced Meal percentage, and their food cost percentage. These are great things to know when you understand how these numbers relate to the success or failure of your program’s sustainability, but these numbers don’t tell you why you are losing money. Even knowing the minimum price increase required (by the use of state and federally supplied calculators) to maintain compliance with the Equity in School Lunch Act, was a number known to most of these operators. When asked if this increase was enough to cover their costs and keep them self-sustaining most replied, “It’s the amount we are required to increase prices so it must be.” Armed with all of this data and still no answers, what a shame. When asked what their average spend per student per day for labor and their average spend per student per day on food and supplies might be all replied they had no idea. Asked what the average student spend per day was in their operations all again had no idea. Once we showed these operators that the sum of spend per student per day on labor and food subtracted from student spend per day was the true indicator of how the program was doing it brought clarity to all of the other numbers they had at their fingertips. In most cases student spend per day exceeded the sum of the cost numbers by at least $1.00 per student per day. In these cases, if I were the operator, I would hope to sell no lunches each day because each sale was costing my program money! Understanding these three simple numbers can save a program. If this sounds like you, obtain these numbers and use them to manage all of the others. If you are in need of assistance call me, I will be happy to help.

4. An Unfriendly and Uninviting House is Always Empty
“If I cook it they will come”, is a philosophy long dead. It died somewhere in the 1950’s with the emergence of “Fast Food”, the two (2) income family, and increased choices. School Food has lagged behind this culture shift for well over fifty (50) years. Many operators and their staff still expect to treat their customers like mushrooms, “keep students in the dark and feed them whatever the operator wants them to have.” These are marketing and customer service issues and need to be incorporated into daily operating procedures. If student customers don’t know the great things we are doing for them why would they visit us? If when they do visit they are treated like inmates rather than invited guests, why would they return again? In every school operation we visited this year marketing and customer service were lacking. Participation covers a multitude of sins, but lack of participation is a sin. Where does your operation fit into this picture? Think about it and take the appropriate actions. Again, seek help if you need it don’t wait.

5. Knowledge is Power, Providing Needed Knowledge is Life Saving
“Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” This is much like saying, “Food Safety Training is politically correct, but enhanced cooking skills and improved customer service will save your program.” The safest food in the world if poorly prepared and served in an uninviting, unfriendly manner will never be eaten or enjoyed. With the opportunities provided by the Professional Standards for School Food Professionals guidelines, many times we repeat the same training over and over because we are accustomed to it and it is required to be reviewed each year. In every operation we visited HACCP manuals and ServeSafe certifications were plainly visible and current. All operations had food handling, service delivery model, and customer service issues. Food Safety is crucial, but review means review, not dwell on. Other skills drive participation and self-sustainability, maybe dwell on these a bit until they become second nature? Look carefully as you plan next year’s training, being safe but empty is not in your program’s best interests.

Reflecting on the past school year as we race through June and into July, I am amazed at the common issues we have found in the schools we visited. Many of these programs were plagued by several if not all of them. I liken the struggle for self-sustainability in school food to the struggle for independence of the original thirteen (13) colonies. All of them were plagued by the same abuses of power by a tyrannical king, while all school food is plagued by the struggles to stay in the black. Like the Founding Fathers in their struggles, we found the above truths to be self-evident in ours. What do you think? Happy Independence Day and best wishes for a successful new school year.

Milt Miller is VP of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc. 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.foodserve.com/school-food-program-assessment.html.

Ways to Produce Growth in School Cafeteria Revenue and Participation

Written by Milt Miller – As in people’s lives, school food programs are sometimes in need of help. Many of these programs are drowning in their problems, but fail to recognize they need help. I find this very hard to understand as well as very frustrating. When I was running a school food program, I was always looking for fresh ideas and better ways of doing things. I always reached out to people who knew something I didn’t and picked their brains for new concepts. Sometimes it cost some money but the revenue generated by the results far outweighed the costs. Many times when I speak with school food directors and administrators all they fix on is the cost, not the revenue it will generate. Every business, at one time or another, has to spend some money to make some money.

Another issue I find, is getting directors to admit they have a problem at all. I spoke to one administrator whose program was losing in excess of $100,000 per year, and he told me that wasn’t really an issue because they had budgeted for the loss. Thought processes like that one just make no sense to me. Another told me participation was down, but the kids would get used to the food and start liking it by next year. Really? They don’t like the products now, but they will learn to like them because it is all they are going to get?

I once had a problem with dining room monitors. Students were avoiding the lunch room because the ladies were too rigid and unwelcoming. Many parents were complaining also. So okay, I admitted I had a problem, hired a child behavioral psychologist to come in and train them, on how to handle student issues more effectively. Did it cost money? Yes it did, but the results achieved more than covered the cost and turnover at that position also dropped, which was cost saving too. Over the years I have invested a great deal of money in my staff. Not just on safe food handling skills and nutrition education, but on the fundamentals of cooking, child psychology, knife skills, and refabricating unsold products into new products to lower waste. I always focused on upgrading their knowledge in every way possible, especially the ways that would eliminate waste and increase revenue.

Directors that only provide training on politically hot topics each year, are missing the boat on what really makes revenues and participation go up. Teaching your staff how to avoid throwing food away or how to better utilize unsold products through proper food handling techniques, makes your program more money than teaching them when it is correct to throw food away. Granted, they need to know when it should not be served, but it is more important to stress how to avoid that. The more you invest in improving your program the more you reap in increased sales, participation, and increased revenues. You also have a happier more talented staff.

More times than not, the question you should be asking isn’t “Can I afford to?”, but rather, “Can I afford not to?”. School food decision makers need to look at what training and investment in their programs will provide the greatest return and growth. This development is not always just courses on safe food handling. You may be able handle food safer than anyone else, but if you aren’t selling it because you don’t know how to market what you are doing, or your staff doesn’t understand customer service or how to prepare the food to suit your customers, you still have a losing situation. Training and development shouldn’t always be the same thing every year or it stops producing growth. Many times basic staff needs are overlooked to review some hot topic that really doesn’t produce growth in the staff or the program but it is politically correct. You may receive grant money or get this training free from your state department of education, but when it is all said and done what has really been achieved in the growth of participation or revenue? I always wanted my staff to understand what it took to be compliant. I reviewed rule changes and procedures with them every day as well as twice a year at policy meetings. I did, however provide them with the knowledge necessary to produce program growth and personal growth as well. I brought in experts in marketing, customer service, food handling, produce, protein, baking, behavioral psychology, and how to effectively use student focus groups. All of this provided them with personal growth and growth to my program. The cost of all of these programs was more than offset by the return in growth for my operations.

Some successful directors are already doing this and know what I am speaking about. Sadly, too many appear to be in denial and don’t see they have a problem in their program. Many also are too focused on initial cost instead of the return on their investment. Using experts in the field to grow your program accomplishes an array of different values, knowledge, confidence, enrichment, and program growth, to mention just a few. If we focus solely on the initial cost and not the end return, we many times turn away what is most needed as not wanted.

Milt Miller is VP of K-12 Operations at Food Service Solutions, Inc. 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.foodserve.com/school-food-program-assessment.html.

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.

You know your school food program is successful if…

Written by Milt Miller – Today in the school food arena, with all of its new rules, programs, and political views, there are virtually a million ways to show a program is successful. None of them define success as being self-sustainable financially, but a fiscally self-sustained program is deemed successful none the less. The whole successful program identification trend kind of reminds me of the old Jeff Foxworthy comedy routine, “You know you are a Redneck if…” At this holiday season, I would like to share my list of ways one can decipher if their food program is in fact a success.

You know your school food program is successful if: 

1. You have implemented all of the meal pattern requirements mandated by the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.

2. You have implemented the Smart Snacks in Schools regulations.

3. You have appropriately raised paid lunch prices as mandated by the Equity in School Lunch Act.

4. You do not deny any child a meal due to an exceptionally high unpaid lunch account.

5. You have implemented the Community Eligibility Provision allowing every child a free breakfast or lunch daily.

6. You have instituted a Weekend Back Pack program to insure low income children are receiving meals on days school is not in session.

7. You are currently planning and scheduling staff development and enrichment programs in compliance with the new Professional Standards for School Food Professionals policy.

8. You have instituted a Farm to School or Buy Local purchasing practice at least two days a week.

9. You have become a Summer Food Program sponsor.

10. Your meal participation exceeds the national average of 65%, even though it takes at least 82% to be fiscally sound.

11. You provide nutrition education in the classroom.

If you can answer yes to at least one or more of the above listed items, in the eyes of the White House, FRAC, FNS, and USDA your program is successful. The unfortunate part of this success is that many of you, after accomplishing these lofty feats cannot meet your fiscal responsibilities without help from your district’s General Fund. Nowhere in this formula for success is there a requirement that a program must be financially self-sustainable as most school food programs are supposed to be. Some of you are fortunate to be fiscally sound, but most are not. Some have left the NSLP and foregone reimbursement to serve their customers what they want and have willingly shouldered the extra financial burden. This to me is a noble act of true customer service. These programs have decided to shoulder a small loss of income to serve their students and insure they all receive the foods they want, than to shoulder a greater loss due to increased waste and decreased participation. In some cases leaving the NSLP was the right move and resulted in no loss at all or a small acceptable loss.

I am not saying that these lofty aforementioned success indicators are wrong and not needed. I wholeheartedly support them and believe they are much needed, but with some changes to insure financial sustainability and increased flexibility. In these times more and more school boards and administrators are looking at privatizing their food programs. Alas, even food management companies, with their food service and business expertise and enhanced purchasing power are struggling to keep the programs they manage in the black. These are the times of over regulated, underfunded, cost prohibitive, over politicized, and ever changing government school meal policies. Legislators need to understand that non-profit does not mean to lose money. Some of the largest and most successful non-profits make money or they would not be able to continue service at an acceptable level. Their growth and outreach would be catastrophically inhibited.

I am a proponent of quality, compliant, and financially sound school food programs. I view this industry as a much needed service to today’s students. To all of the dedicated school food professionals in this country, it is my fervent wish that during this holiday season our government leaders work diligently to enact revisions to current policies that provide adequate funding, increased flexibility, improved regulation, and financial stability to this great industry. Happy Holidays and a very prosperous New Year to all.

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.

Sustainability Trends in School Food Service

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.