Turning cafeteria workers into entrepreneurs

Cafeteria workers

From DayMark Safety Systems.

The Orfalea Foundation, a philanthropic organization in Santa Barbara, California, has set out to help school cafeteria workers produce healthier, tastier food offerings in the city’s schools. Altogether, more than 50,000 students in Santa Barbara receive one or more meals each day while attending these schools.

The essence of the program is to increase professionalism among the workers. And one way the foundation has accomplished this is by teaching the workers how to run the cafeterias as if they were a business—a restaurant, for instance—that has to be cost-conscious while at the same time ensuring their offerings are well received.

Along with this, the goals are to enhance efficiency, improve worker productivity, and reduce food waste as well as produce a significant cost savings for the school district.

"School districts haven't traditionally invested in developing [the] skills of food service workers. We wanted to turn this around," says school food initiative director Kathleen Dechadenedes.

Food service workers are also taught how to be entrepreneurial-minded, paying much more attention to costs and food waste and even developing ways to serve the students more efficiently. 

However, it has been the remaking the menus that has made the most significant difference in the quality of the food served as well as in cost reduction. Previously , the school offerings were made up of costly, processed food products. "They were running in the red," Dechadenedes says. "So not only could they not stay financially viable, they were serving nonnutritious foods."

To address this issue, cafeteria workers were taught how to make food items from scratch. Instead of the district purchasing mass-produced, prepackaged chicken and meat meals, frozen pies and bottled salad dressings, they started making these items themselves.

Since working with the Santa Barbara school district, the foundation has discovered that other school districts around the country have followed suit, adopting similar programs. However, some cafeterias and food service locations have gone even further.

Already making their food offerings from scratch, these other locations have started using new technologies, such as DayMark Safety Systems’ Nutritics Insight app. This app helps analyze food recipes, looking for ways they can be improved. For instance, the technology can help find ways to reduce the fat or sodium in a food item or ensure no allergens are present.

Nutritics Insight is part of DayMark’s new Gateway system. This system includes different cloud-based applications, each designed to help ensure that the food prepared in non-commercial kitchens is safe and healthy, meets regulatory requirements, and is prepared cost efficiently.

“Nutritics Insight is the perfect program for creating entrepreneurial-minded food service workers,” says Jill Carte, category manger of kitchen automation for DayMark.

“Instead of just serving prepackaged food, now food service workers can be directly involved in every aspect of food preparation, from crafting the recipe to how it is cooked.”

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