School meals’ image problem

Published in FSD Update

Operators cross market segments to learn about their future customers.

It’s a wrap on day one of MenuDirections 2014. Conferences are always a great place to network and meet new people. It’s also great for sharing your successes—and struggles—and getting some valuable advice from fellow directors. What makes MenuDirections so special is it’s for all market segments, from schools and hospitals, to colleges and B&I. What stood out for me on day one of the conference was how little other segments know about the challenges that child nutrition directors are facing.

School meals have an image problem. They’ve been the butt of jokes for decades; the stereotypical lunch lady is a hard image to shake; and most people have no clue about what it takes to run a school meal program.

I had the pleasure of eating dinner last night with Joanne Kinsey, director at Chesapeake schools in Virginia. Joanne was explaining her job to our dinner table, which included several operators from the college market. They had no idea that Joanne produced her meals for $2.47 (including food, labor and indirect costs, among other line items) and that she had to meet incredibly strict nutritional standards. That’s not to say that these directors previously thought Joanne’s job was a cakewalk; they just had no idea how little money and how stringent the federal guidelines were for child nutrition programs.

After about a 20-minute conversation at the table, I feel confident in saying those college directors walked away with a newfound appreciation for Joanne and her fellow child nutrition directors.

At another conversation last night, Justin Gillette, of Atlanta Public Schools, shared his journey into school meals. Justin is a newbie to the industry, having spent a little more than a year in school meals after transitioning from campus services with Sodexo. Justin shared his training program with a table composed mainly of college and healthcare operators. Justin’s program includes some of the same exercises you’ll see in culinary schools. Yes, lunch ladies know how to do more than open boxes.

On the one hand you have Joanne, who has spent the last 37 years in child nutrition, who was trying to educate fellow non-commercial directors about the challenges of her job. On the other, you have great innovation and ideas coming from a newcomer to the same market. But all too often, people, both inside and outside the industry, only hear the negative of school meal program.

That’s a shame. Joanne’s and Justin’s customers will be the customers in your college dining halls, B&I cafés and hospital beds in the years to come. What Joanne and Justin feed and teach them will be a good part of their culinary foundation. It’s time for everyone in the industry to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing K-12 directors.

Keywords: 
costs

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
construction plans drawing tools calculator

When revamping an old cafeteria or building a new retail spot, the design process can feel like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle: What needs to fit in the space, and what’s the most efficient flow for staffers, cooks, diners and more?

Cathy Estes, administrative director of nutrition services at four northern Indiana hospitals that are part of the Franciscan Health network, faced the creation of a new in-house dining program at Franciscan’s Munster hospital. Amid all the big plans, design was one of the largest undertakings.

“I was looking at 5,000 square feet on a...

Ideas and Innovation
amazon prime delivery

About 90% of our students receive financial assistance and participate in our free and reduced-price meal program. But a number of students in our district study remotely due to circumstances such as chronic illness. In January, we hired a driver to deliver meals to students who aren’t able to step into our cafeteria each day.

Ideas and Innovation
wheaton emerson int salad bar

Restaurant design is all about catching a customer’s eye —and it’s sometimes particularly beneficial to be far-sighted. As Airbnb has proven with its San Francisco headquarters, where cafe spaces are inspired by cities like Cairo and Mumbai, elaborate design schemes that evoke far-flung geographic regions can be done to great effect. But operators are finding simpler ways to achieve that feel.

That’s been the experience of Kutztown University Dining Services in Pennsylvania. Kent Dahlquist, director of housing and dining services, says that when the university decided several years...

Managing Your Business
overtime payroll timesheet

Just eight days before Dec. 1, when operators would have to comply with the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rules, a federal judge in Texas slapped an injunction on the regulation. The move indefinitely halted the rules that would have doubled the overtime threshold to $47,476, affecting nearly 4.2 million workers, according to the DOL. For some operators, the move was too little, too late. Now, they have to answer to employees who had been briefed on promised wage increases.

Kansas Memorial Union at the University of Kansas in Lawrence made changes ahead of the deadline...

FSD Resources