Quick and Practical K-5 School Foodservice Advice

Helpful tips for K-5 school foodservice

Founder and president of Lunchline, Inc.

We are privileged to have Karen J. Peterson, SNS (School Nutrition Specialist) provide our readers with helpful tips to lessen the frustration and challenges commonly faced in K-5 kitchens. Karen is a 25 + year veteran of the foodservice industry. She is currently serving as founder and president of Lunchline, Inc. a company dedicated to the K-12 market channel.

Tip #1 – Sometimes K-5 students need encouragement to eat their veggies! There are always the perennial favorites: ranch dressing, salsa and hummus. But how about some fun?  Broccoli easily transforms into baby trees or dinosaur food and cauliflower becomes brains – PERFECT for Halloween!

Tip #2 – Picky eaters are a real concern in foodservice. After all, it attributes to less kids buying school lunch and/or throwing much of the lunch away and going hungry for the remainder of the day. Trying new foods needs to be about nutritional benefits. Associate fun symbols with foods so kids will understand why they need to eat them – calcium for stronger bones, beta-carotene essential for vision, fiber for digestive health, and lower sodium for a healthy heart.

Tip #3 – Does K-12 menu planning have you fussy?  Planning healthy, nutritious, attractive and compliant menus are more challenging today than ever before.  If there is no access to a third-party system, try the old-fashioned buddy system with neighboring districts, manufacturers, or state resources. Collaborating is COOL!
Tip #4 – There are many benefits to K-12 cafeterias cooking from scratch, however, how practical is it given the time, budgetary and quantity limitations? The benefits to scratch cooking are numerous and convincing: lower food cost, eye appeal, ingredient control, allergy concerns, student input, local trends and employee morale. The challenges sometimes outweigh the benefits: employee training/skill level, labor cost, cooking equipment, time, food safety and consistency. My advice is to investigate speed scratch dry-mix products like gravy and sauce mixes. These items are mixed with water and ready in seconds, saving you time and eliminating consistency worries. They are also sodium conscience as well as being gluten, shellfish and nut free. Check out Foothill Farms Flavorwise product line http://foothillfarms.com/k12/about_flavorwise.cfm.
Tip #5 – Want to increase your participation in your schools? Take a hint from Costco (or other similar retailers) and have sample days. Kids look forward to visiting mall food courts and big wholesalers on weekends because they know the sample stations are in full operation! How often do you end buying whatever is tasted? What an excellent way to introduce new foods to your students!
Tip #6 – Cafeteria theme days are fun and easy implementations for school lunch. What comes to mind when you think about your days at summer camp (other than pesky mosquitoes)? Good old fashion fun along with a hearty appetite for breakfast, lunch and dinner! After all, there isn’t much snacking at summer camp!  Turn your elementary lunchroom into “base camp cafe” with each classroom creating a camp flag.  Display the flags in flag holders mounted on the wall if indoors or on stanchions if outdoors.
Tip #7 – Are the new regs causing pressure from parents, administrators, as well as students? People often react to what they don’t know or understand.  Consider hosting a “food show” where everyone can see and taste the food currently on the menu and evaluate possible new additions.  Input is a powerful equalizer!
Tip #8 – Accommodating special diets can be overwhelming. You’ve collected all the paper work – now what?  For inspiration, visit your local hospital’s dietary program. Meet with the people responsible for menu creation and gather ideas that can translate into your operation.  Also, consider setting aside a small prep area that is used for special diets only.

Karen holds an M.A. in Organizational Leadership from College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota and a B.S. in Foods and Nutrition from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She has also earned her SNS (School Nutrition Specialist) credential from SNA. If you have a question for Karen or Foothill Farms, please leave us a comment and we’ll get back with you soon.

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