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.