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4 big school meal ideas from SNIC

From recruitment to new styles of service, these four ideas could spark innovation in your district.

Earlier this week, child nutrition professionals gathered in Austin, Texas, for the School Nutrition Association’s annual School Nutrition Industry Conference (SNIC). In addition to honoring this year’s class of FAME Award winners, the conference looked at topics such as recruitment and labor. There was also a lot of discussion around the future and being ready for hard trends (or those trends we know are coming) so that the industry can prepare and not be caught off guard. Here are four ideas shared during the conference: 

1. Jessica Shelly, foodservice director for Cincinnati Public Schools, shared an easy way to help recruit new school foodservice employees. She had business cards printed that say “You’ve been noticed,” which she hands out to people she sees who she could possibly hire. For example, she was once at a c-store and it was a busy time, but one worker continued to have a smile on her face. So Shelly handed her a card and told her to contact her if she was interested in working for the district. Shelly says that as the economy has boomed, she’s had trouble keeping her department fully staffed, so she’s had to get creative with her recruitment tactics.

2. Speaking of another way to find new employees, Paul Becker, director at Fort Zumwalt R-II School District, in O’Fallon, Mo., says he put huge signs from front to back on school buses that say, “We need help serving smiles.” Becker says the signs are a way to help grow awareness of employment opportunities with the department. Before the signs, Becker says he averaged being down by 25 people a day. Now, he’s down to only three.

3. During a session on planning for the future, Betti Wiggins, director at Houston ISD, asked why school meal programs couldn’t be more like a commercial operation. She threw out this idea: an option through which parents would create a sack lunch of sorts for their children, which would then be assembled by the school nutrition department and offered to the individual students. The items would be selected from a preset list of products. The meals wouldn’t be reimbursable—rather they would be treated like a commercial transaction with parents purchasing them for a price.

4. Another forward-looking idea came from Prince William County Public Schools in Virginia, where a seated service option will be starting in an elementary school next school year. The details are still being worked out, but it would employ students to help serve their peers. “The cafeteria model is dead,” said Adam Russo, director of school food and nutrition services. “You only eat this way in a school.”

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