Running a school nutrition program can be a lot like running a large company. There are financial issues, infrastructure, staffing, inventory, and more. When you boil it all down, though, all of these challenges fit into five main categories, but more on those in a minute.
First, let's introduce Chef Ann.
Chef Ann Cooper is one of the country's most renown school foodservice directors. She is the director of the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, but she does so much more than that.
Known as the "Renegade Lunch Lady" for her tendency to take initiative regardless of outside factors, she has trailblazed her own path to international recognition as an author, as an educator, and as a public speaker. She has given four TED Talks, in addition to speaker appearances at the National Restaurant Association.
She also founded the Chef Ann Foundation, which is a national force to improve childhood nutrition and promote scratch cooking throughout the nation, and she is looking to knock down barriers that stand in the way.
Why are we giving you all these details on her background? Because she has a way with words and recently verbalized the five school nutrition challenges every district faces.
How do we get it and make sure it's good? In many ways, school foodservice parallels trends in foodservice as a whole, and one of the main focuses in recent years has been in sourcing. Obviously school nutrition programs must operate on a budget, but that doesn't mean the local sourcing of clean ingredients is out of the question. In many cases, food manufacturers will relish the chance to work in schools.
How do we pay for it and make sure we can support it sustainably? This all comes down to budget. Not all districts have the same amount of resources, but everyone has the opportunity to reach out within the community to help pool as many resources as possible. This can create benefits on many different levels.
What do you do if you don't have kitchens or need better kitchens? This all comes down to the ability to do more with less, to maximize the space in any given school cafeteria or commissary to create a wide range of healthy and appealing menu items. One of the main aspects of facilities is technology and how a school district can leverage recent technological advances in foodservice equipment in order to do more with less.
4) HUMAN RESOURCES
How and where do we get staff, and how do we get them trained? This is one of the biggest issues in foodservice today. In many cases, restaurants are closing or cutting hours because they can't find staff, and this problem is even bigger in schools because schools cannot compete wage-wise with restaurants. As unemployment continues to fall and immigration issues rise, this trend will only continue.
If you do everything else right, how do you get the kids to eat? This is the common challenge of increasing student participation, and school districts can help overcome this by thinking about foodservice from a marketing perspective. Consider Chef Ann. In the Boulder Valley School District, they have rainbow days where kids try foods of different colors, and they even have Iron Chef competitions, with some of the winning recipes actually making it onto the district menu.
How do these school nutrition challenges relate to foodservice equipment?
If you take two of these challenges -- facilities and human resources -- you can draw a direct line to equipment as a means to help mitigate those challenges. Obviously aging equipment and inadequate facilities that are not built to make the most impact out of the given space are the easy target, but it goes beyond that.
Foodservice equipment is changing. It's becoming smarter, easier to use, and more automated. For directors, this means you can do more with less. Take a combi oven, for example. A combi oven in schools can help a school cafeteria provide a wider range of cooking processes (and healthier food) from the same footprint.
At the same time, if equipment is easier to use, it can help with some of the training issues that come from high turnover rates we often see in school foodservice. Smarter, more efficient, and even automated equipment can allow a school cafeteria to do more with less.