K-12 survey: The challenges of school foodservice

Staffing, time and resources are a few obstacles mentioned by operators.

A majority of survey respondents say they are in favor of the United States Agriculture Department's most recent rollbacks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, with over 75% of respondents saying they welcomed the changes.

Some, like Caren Johnson, executive chef at Plymouth Joint School District in Plymouth, Wis., are happy with a portion of the rollbacks, while others are keeping other components of the act intact.

“We love whole grains, but whole-grain pasta doesn't hold well,” Johnson says. “We welcomed the rollback for that item, along with homemade pizza crust. We continue to use whole grains for all other items.”

Time is another major obstacle for operators, especially when it comes to making meals from scratch.

“There is no time to do so,” says Heather Golembiewski, director of food services at Northwood School District in Minong, Wis. “Plus, all the paperwork that needs to be done to make an item from scratch is too much.”

Time is also an issue on the other side of the serving line. “The kids need more time for the meals,” says Lynna Hassenger, food service director for Okemos Public Schools in Okemos, Mich. “I think they are always so rushed to eat that they don’t finish a meal.” 

Reasons for not serving scratch-made meals

Time savers

With some lunch periods lasting as little as 20 minutes, it can be tough to get students through the lunch line with enough time to sit and eat. Here are three ways operators are speeding up service.

Mobile ordering

“We've introduced mobile ordering at one school where they can order and customize their salads and subs ahead of time (before 10 a.m.) and come to the kiosk and pick it up at their designated lunch time,” says Monique Johnson, assistant director of nutrition and menus for Cobb County School District in Marietta, Ga. “We have much shorter lines, and [students] still get the customized product they desire.”

Finger scanners

“Fingerprint scanners save us a lot of time,” says Julie Towery, head cook at Beardstown CUSD #15 in Beardstown, Ill.

District floaters

“We hire staff as district floaters so we don't have to close a serving line when we are short-staffed and have no available subs,” says Karen Guobis, director of food services at Allen Park Public Schools in Allen Park, Mich.

Finding and keeping staff

The K-12 segment is not immune to the labor shortage that’s impacting the rest of the food industry. These ideas may help.

Go with who you know

“I like to hire a person that either I know personally or is recommended by one of my staff,” says Deb Brem, foodservice director for Harmony Emge School District 175 in Belleville, Ill.

“I treat staff how I want to be treated. I compliment them often, so they are more receptive when I need to talk with them about something they are not doing so well. I work with my staff, and I don't expect more out of them than I expect out of myself.”

Enlist recent grads

“I reached out to our graduates (we are a small school in a rural area), so this year I have two graduates [whose school schedules I work around] to help in our kitchen and with cleaning,” says Jennifer Verburgt, food service supervisor at School District of Lomira in Lomira, Wis.

Promote positivity

“I run a positive kitchen, letting employees make suggestions and execute them,” says Betsy Statler, food service director at St. Anne Grade School and High School Districts in St. Anne, Ill.“I want my employees to feel appreciated while still keeping things in line.”



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