Serving as an outsource provider of prepared food for clients like private schools, daycare centers and other community service sites is a revenue generator for school district foodservice operations that have excess production capacity. These contract relationships take many forms but probably few have it down to a science to the extent that Westside Community Schools in Omaha does.
Westside serves as the contract meal provider for 22 private K-8 schools in the area and uses an online form to take orders. The system allows Westside’s central kitchen to produce the requisite amount of each menu item efficiently while minimizing waste.
The system is also used to take orders from Westside’s own 10 elementary school sites for food prepared both at the individual sites and in the district central kitchen.
The central kitchen turns out some 4,200 contract lunches each day that are delivered by the district’s five trucks. A sixth vehicle services district schools.
In the district elementary sites, teachers in each classroom collect meal orders each morning from students and load them on Google Doc sheets.
There are three daily choices: a hot meal, a cold meal alternative and a yogurt/cheese stick option that is available every day. The hot meal option is prepared at each school site while the cold option and all contract meals are prepared in the central kitchen.
“For example, my daughter is in kindergarten [where] they have three jars [into which students] put a pin [in the jar reflecting their meal choice for the day],” explains Erin Vik, director of nutrition services for Westside Community Schools.
“Each teacher puts the information on the Google Docs and the kitchen manager relays the [counts] for the [cold meal] alternatives to our central kitchen. These are then delivered each morning by van.”
Vik says the system is quite reliable because the teachers and kitchen managers know the students and have a good idea of what they are likely to want, so counts are rarely far off even if a few students change their minds or forget what they ordered.
The elementary menus are planned on a month-to-month basis with each month featuring a few new items to maintain some variety.
The pre-order system is not used in the district’s middle and high schools, where students make their choices when they enter the cafeteria. The middle school generally offers several hot and cold choices daily while the high school has “more of a full-on food court with five stations,” Vik says. Each station operates a quarterly menu that rotates on a three-week cycle supplemented with specials.
The high school also features a grab and go option called Café Express that menus Smart Snack a la carte options as well as meal components that can be purchased either separately or in combination to make a reimbursable meal. It is open all day.
The array of options allows the high school to maintain a fairly impressive 60 to 65 percent participation rate despite having an open campus at lunch.
Vik joined Westside two years ago after a career that included stops in commercial restaurants and hotel F&B, as well as a three-and-a-half year stint as general manager for culinary hospitality and horticulture at the local Metropolitan Community College, where he oversaw operations and support for the catering program.
The pre-order system was already in place in a less high-tech call-in form when Vik came on board. He says he and Operations Support Manager Charles LaPlante “kind of stumbled across” the Google Docs option, which was then beta tested at a couple of school sites before being fully deployed across the district elementaries and the client sites. He credits LaPlante with overseeing the full deployment of the system.