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.

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