How FSDs are tackling lunch debt

school lunch

With the USDA’s recent mandate that schools operating on the National School Lunch or Breakfast programs have a written policy on unpaid meals, school officials have put their heads together to come up with best practices to tackle the growing problem. Here’s how some operators are dealing with delinquent accounts, and the lunch shaming often tied to them. 

1. Keeping all channels of communication open

school hallway

When school officials at Amherst-Pelham Regional School District in Amherst, Mass., sat down to plan their updated policy on meal debt, communication was top of mind.

“We are trying to have a policy that enhances the focus on communication within our community as a primary tool for both building relationships with those who may be struggling and ensuring that those collections occur, instead of a more punitive approach to collections,” says Superintendent Mike Morris.

In the past, communication regarding overdue balances happened through students via notices sent home, as well as an alternative lunch. Now, students receive a hot lunch regardless of whether they have outstanding debt, and all communication regarding account balances will occur directly between the district and parents.

Amherst-Pelham will also use the district’s Family Center to act as a liaison to families. Morris says the center adds another channel of communication, especially those families that may be struggling. “[The center] has built a lot of rapport with families and can often communicate in ways that are meaningful,” he says.

2. Tiered notices

notice

Communication has been essential in tackling overdue balances at Richmond Community Schools in Richmond, Mich., as well. This past year, Director of Food Service Sue Bevins began reaching out through email to parents whose children accumulated meal debt. Bevins has since changed her method to give parents earlier notice.

“I used to send an email when it was $25, but I’ve found when I was speaking to parents, they were surprised,” Bevins says. “Many of them said, ‘Why wasn’t I notified of this balance before?’” On alternating weeks, she now calls or emails parents whose children have a negative balance of $10 or more, and sends a letter the following week to those with $25 or more in unpaid meals. 

3. Avoiding the sandwich of shame

cheese sandwich

In Ohio, Cincinnati Public Schools has taken steps to address delinquent accounts while avoiding lunch shaming. Instead of providing a cold cheese sandwich to students with overdue balances, the district limits their meal choice among the regular options to avoid stigmatizing the student.

“For alternative meals, lunch trays are not taken away from a student; however, the student’s entree choice is limited to the featured salad entree that is offered on the menu,” says Food Services Director Jessica Shelly. “This way, the student’s tray looks no different than any other student tray-dining.”

Shelly also says the district employs a five-day grace period for students who are eligible for free meals to receive lunch at no charge while their enrollment application is processed.

“This goodwill goes a long way in connecting with your parents and your community,” Shelly says. “No school nutrition professional ever wants to see a student go hungry or be embarrassed.”

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
Voyagers counter

From our partner LTI, Inc.

Building out a serving line comes with its fair share of challenges. Layout and design decisions come first, but operators must then decide how they plan on implementing that layout. Chief among those considerations is whether to use a modular or a customized one-piece serving counter.

When deciding on which type of counter, it becomes important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of both. Doing so will ensure counter chosen will meet the facility’s serving needs and will also help avoid issues in areas such as cleaning, electrical...

Industry News & Opinion

Roger Williams University and its foodservice vendor, Bon Appetit, are helping some folks affected by the ongoing government shutdown by giving free dinners to area Coast Guard members and their families.

The Bristol, R.I., university will offer those meals from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday in its Upper Commons dining hall. While many military salaries are still being paid during the federal shutdown, those of Coast Guard members are not, as that branch is funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according to the university’s website.

James Gubata, a general manager for...

Managing Your Business
JBT Food for Health

Instead of a pill, hospital patients at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) might be handed a prescription for vegetables such as kale and beets.

And those prescriptions are filled and picked up on-site. The Therapeutic Food Pantry located at SFGH is one of a growing number of facilities swapping pills and supplements for fruits, veggies and proteins.

The prescription food program enables doctors and healthcare providers to prescribe fresh fruits and vegetables along with other healthy items to patients as part of a road map to sustained health and wellness.

The...

Ideas and Innovation
Government Shutdown

As the government shutdown continues, employees at noncommercial operations are stepping up to make sure that consumers still have access to fresh food. Here’s how four operations are helping out.

1. Prince George County Schools

Prince George County Public Schools in Prince George, Va., has been offering free meals to students this past week. The district also started a donation fund to make sure that all students will receive a hot meal regardless of whether they can pay. The fund has raised $15,000 through community donations so far.

2....

FSD Resources