4 issues K-12 foodservice directors are returning to this fall

Published in FSD K-12 Spotlight

empty school cafeteria

Say goodbye to beach days and summer feeding programs, and hello to all the problems you left in the cafeteria after throwing napkins into the air while singing Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer.” Here are a few of the sticky wickets that will greet K-12 foodservice directors on the first day of school.

1. A sluggish CNR

In September, it will be a year since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 expired, and Congress passed a continuing resolution. Since then, the fate of child nutrition legislation and what that means for foodservice directors has been a bold question mark. Although the Senate might pass its version of child nutrition reauthorization in the fall, the House’s Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, which includes a pilot for block grants in three undetermined states, will likely not make it past the floor before the September 30 deadline, according to the School Nutrition Association, a professional organization with more than 56,00 members. SNA sees another continuing resolution in its CNR crystal ball. “The calendar is not working in our favor on a reauthorization this year,” says Cathy Schuchart, SVP of government affairs and media relations for the group. CNR has been put on the back burner in light of noisy legislative issues such as preventing the spread of Zika, combating opioid abuse and setting policy on genetically modified foods, Schuchart says. In the meantime, foodservice directors must toil under HHFKA until Congress can move past the letters CR.

2. Social media attacks

For better or for worse, your Generation Z guests can craft a viral tweet of their food before you can even get them through the lunch line. Last May, the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama, champion of HHFKA, had been attached to sad-looking lunch eats, and last winter Chicago Public Schools students coalesced around a blog that urged students to protest their unsavory and unsatisfying lunches. Linette Dodson, Carrollton City Schools’ food and nutrition director has built up her program’s social media presence and says not be afraid of the negative comments, but instead use the bad press to learn and grow.

3. Meal debt drama

When your customers are hungry children, it’s hard to put on the debt collector hat or create programs that discourage racking up meal debt. FSDs continue to struggle balancing the business end and feeding their low-income clientele without making them feel “othered.” In schools without universal free or reduced-price lunch, controversial polices are used as a last resort, such as “I need lunch money” stamps on kids’ arms or reporting parents with particularly bloated tabs to the Division of Child Protective Services. Finding a solution to balancing the books while protecting students in need will continue to be an ongoing hunger pain.

4. Procurement problems

Clogs in the procurement pipeline are a special hurdle for K-12 foodservice directors because of the strict guidelines they need to follow. SNA President Becky Domokos-Bays says it can be challenging to get the products children need when they need them because of lack of communication between the various links in the chain. "Manufacturers don’t always know what distributors do, directors don’t know what brokers do, brokers don’t know what directors do—so that’s a lot of conversations that has to happen," Domokos-Bays says. The updated regulations have muddied the process and made it more difficult to understand what each party needs, which requires more direct communication between stakeholders, she says.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The University of New Mexico’s proposed on-campus taproom has officially been approved by the school’s Board of Regents.

Construction on the $650,000 student union taproom will begin this summer and is expected to finish in August when students return to campus. The school’s food vendor, Chartwells, and UNM’s Dining & Food Services department will split the cost of the taproom evenly.

Designed by students in the school’s architecture department, the space will feature a rotating selection of beer and wine, and will also welcome guest brewers. Chartwells will be...

Ideas and Innovation

Three years ago, Colonial School District in New Castle, Del., started a pilot supper program at its high school. The goal: To make sure the district’s students, 57% of whom are on free or reduced-priced meals, would not be hungry when school is done for the day.

Since its inception, the program has expanded to 12 schools and now provides afterschool meals to children participating in YMCA activities. And it's just one of many such programs popping up in districts throughout the country, as operators add supper to the list of daily meals they provide for students.

Ideas and Innovation

We put our hydroponic gardens in a spot where students can watch them grow, but at the same time it’s safe from being tampered with. At one of our elementary schools, the gardens are in the kitchen, but there’s a window where students can look in as they walk down the hallway. Some even stop to count how many cucumbers they see.

Ideas and Innovation
food snap

We started a 50-member vegan team in response to students expressing the need for more vegan options. Between our monthly meetings, students are asked to take photos of foods they eat in and out of the dining halls to give us a true picture of the kinds of things they like and the kinds of foods that cause disappointment. This exercise has sparked a lot of conversation and given us more insight into what we could do better.

FSD Resources