There’s no fast food in Haven, Kan., or even a grocery store. Haven is a town of 1,200 residents located a half-hour northwest of Wichita. These days, a dollar store and a convenience mart are its only commercial food offerings. That might sound helpful for lunch participation rates in schools. But the district’s small size means it hasn’t had the budget to offer as many choices as students might want.
Enter Google Docs. That’s the innovative, free solution Food Service Director Sheree Jones and her team came up with to give students more options. Two years ago, students had two choices: that day’s hot entree or a PB&J. Jones and Head Cook McKyla Powers realized that if students could order ahead, the kitchen could offer more daily options without risking that they’d go to waste.
“We love these kids to pieces,” Jones says. “We just want to give them as many options as we can and give them everything kids in the bigger districts have, only better, because we scratch-cook everything.”
Read on to see how the district put its simple, yet effective system into place.Nominate an FSO of the Month
A user-friendly form
The district’s technology team created a form that goes out to middle and high school students through their district email. Students choose from among four meal options for the following week, and results are tabulated in Google and then sent to Powers. The list is printed and posted the next week to remind students of what they chose. (To cut down on mischief, recipients don’t contribute to a shared document, and if they try using a fake name, which has happened once or twice, it can be traced back to their email address.)
The result: Lunch participation among middle and high schoolers has shot up to more than 90%. Students report being more satisfied, cooks feel less stressed because they don’t have to estimate demand, and kitchen waste has dropped, Jones says: “It’s gone over so much better than we could’ve ever hoped for.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
On the menu
When it comes to entrees, the team makes big efforts with local favorites such as tetrazzini (whole-grain noodles, chicken, onions and cheese), bierocks (a German recipe of bread dough stuffed with ground beef, cabbage, cheese and spices), and a Kansas classic: chili with cinnamon rolls. Because students requested more international flavors, Mexican dishes such as enchiladas and Asian flavors such as noodle bowls are in the mix, too.
The classic PB&J (served with a cheese stick and chips) is still available, as is a rotating sandwich option that includes hamburgers and wraps. A specialty salad that rotates among options such as chef’s, Cobb or Southwestern chicken rounds out the four choices.
Jones is also proud of amping up the salad bar for middle and high schoolers. Every day, it now features leafy greens with spinach and spring mix, seven varying veggies and two or three fresh fruits, plus a canned option. Cheese isn’t set out, but sunflower seeds or nuts usually are, along with a protein such as hard-boiled egg.
The salad bar has a bonus, too: Students grow the lettuce. The high school agriculture classes started to cultivate greens in a 30-by-40-foot greenhouse on school grounds last year. Next, they’re hoping to try other crops, such as peppers or tomatoes, and eventually to do a farmers market. The “kids buy into that,” Haven High School Principal Travis Moore says.Nominate an FSO of the Month
Moore, who came to Haven from a larger district two years ago, has been amazed by the increased satisfaction—especially without spending more money. “You can always tell how happy kids are with the food by standing by the trash,” he says. “When kids come over with their tray, they’re not dumping much. That is not something I’m accustomed to seeing in other districts.”
The Haven district has also been innovating with breakfast this year, offering “second chance” options that students can grab on the go. Traditional breakfast is still offered in the lunchroom before school, but a kitchen cart comes to middle schoolers before the first bell, and to high schoolers between first and second period. The hot offerings are brought around, along with items such as cereal, fruit, fruit juice and milk.
Although the kitchen cart is functional, Jones believes a better vehicle will improve sales. She recently applied for and won a Kansas state grant for $2,606 for a breakfast cart. The 6-foot-wide cart will include cold and warm storage, plus breakfast graphics. “The kids will see it and get excited—they’re very visual,” she says. “I think it will help our participation.”Nominate an FSO of the Month
Ask the FSD: Sheree Jones
Q: What are your goals for the coming year?
Get more kids participating. We are currently looking into doing evening meals. Our free and reduced count is so high that we qualify. We are also looking to expand our summer food program. We currently serve just here in the town of Haven, but a lot of our kids come from towns like Mount Hope and Partridge, and we are looking at delivery service for that this summer. And we want to keep improving for our kids to be happy and to get them eating.
Q: What makes your operation excel?
I believe that everybody buying into the program helps it excel, between the kitchen staff that goes above and beyond to the administration that supports us 100%. We are so encouraged by the Kansas State Department of Education’s Department of Food and Nutrition. If we’re going to increase numbers, they’re all-in. It’s a team effort. Everybody wants to do the best they can do for our students.