At its height over the summer, the Meals to You program delivered 5 million shelf-stable meal boxes to rural students each week. As one of the program’s partners, Chartwells K12 learned a lot about what goes into assembling the boxes and will be applying that knowledge this fall while packing boxes for some districts with remote learning. Here, Chartwells K12 CEO Belinda Oakley shares some tips.
1. Have a backup plan
One of the most challenging aspects of assembling the meal boxes was finding suppliers that had enough product available over a long run period, Oakley says. “With the best of intention, [suppliers] can commit to that initial purchase,” she says. “They can commit to that certain amount of stable product, but when you get into, ‘Can you commit over time? Can you be a stable supply chain for three months, for example?’ That's when you start to run into issues.”
To combat this, Chartwells started to stock up on certain products and look for backups that could act as a replacement if any other shipments fell through. “For every item, whether it's applesauce or craisins or graham crackers, you always need to go through and then have your substitution list so that if something goes wrong—if you either can't get the supply or there's an issue with what you receive—you know what you’re going to substitute it with so you're not scrambling,” Oakley says.
2. Prioritize variety
Along with identifying potential replacement products, Chartwells also spent weeks finding a wide assortment of items to include in the boxes. “You have to be doggedly in pursuit of a good experience,” says Oakley, adding that the team focused on sourcing several varieties of each meal component to ensure that kids would still be excited each time they went to grab a meal. “We were making sure that we had variety because you don't want to eat the same fruit every day,” she says. “It's got to have appropriate amounts of fun in the box.”
3. Pay attention to packaging
Chartwells K12 went through four different types of boxes this summer before finding one that was the correct size and could fit all the meal components neatly. Oakley recommends purchasing dividers or pieces of cardboard to separate heavier items from lighter ones so things like tortilla chips don’t end up smashed.
4. Keep your team in the loop
As with any task, Oakley says communication is essential. Keeping all employees up to date with any product substitutions and other logistics helps the process run smoothly and also increases employee morale. “We've discovered … that communication became one of our biggest tools for success,” Oakley says. “And the more your team can know about your backup plan, the easier things go.”