Why go all-out with exciting lunch entrees for middle and high school? Lunchtime Solutions Inc., a foodservice provider serving 50 school districts in six Midwestern states, makes a compelling case for doing just that. According to its philosophy/mission statement, “there is an ongoing need to keep the program interesting and exciting to students. The cost of NOT doing so is a slow but steady decline over time in participation rates, which seriously erodes financial outcomes.”
So an idea like ‘Rito-In-Cog-NEAT-O is much more than a fun burrito concept; it’s an investment in keeping kids interested in school lunch. Through recipe development with open-minded chefs, training with enthusiastic kitchen staff and a strong marketing plan, Lunchtime Solutions has been creating lunch entree themes like this for the past three school years. The theme—last year was grilled cheese concept Epic Meltdowns—carries through the school year with monthly features tied together with that theme.
‘Rito-In-Cog-NEAT-O relies on a familiar format—big burrito—to deliver many different ingredients and flavor profiles, often stuff not normally found on the menu. The cowboy burrito has braised pork; the pad Thai burrito features a whole egg roll; and the chili relleno burrito rolls up fried jalapenos, green chilies and cotija cheese.
“It’s a lot of fun to introduce these things, the ingredients and the variety makes it a pricier culinary profile, but it doesn’t fundamentally shift the cost,” says Chris Goeb, executive VP of Lunchtime Solutions.
When creating any item for this program, which fits into national school lunch guidelines, “the flavor profile reigns supreme,” Goeb says. “The process is to create something that’s not so far-out and confusing, but we take the theme and then bring in items that are more familiar to school foodservice.”
Standardized recipes with photos for each part of the recipe helps each kitchen team to get on board for unfamiliar items, and schools that choose to run the promotion earlier in the month than others always share advice on preparing each new menu item through the company intranet.
“The early adopters put a bunch of tips on the forum…problems we maybe didn’t run into in our test kitchen,” Goeb says. “Like, ‘The recipe says this temperature, but if you have a slower oven,’ or things like that. Our culture is collaborative like that.”
Promotion and marketing for ‘Rito-In-Cog-NEAT-O includes bright signage for serving areas with inserts that change out for each month’s featured burrito, novelty “incognito” glasses-with-mustache for servers and customizable promotions that could include photo booths, a scavenger hunt and student servers.
What Goeb thinks is most noteworthy about ‘Rito-In-Cog-NEAT-O and other annual themes is that it’s always available on the regular serving line, regardless of free-and-reduced status of each student.
“It’s a regular choice for any student and that really fits with our company values and our overall mission, which is to give every student the best shake at school lunch they can get and not divide people up,” Goeb says. The concept has been fitting into participation piece of the mission as well, with schools reporting increases in participation as high as 15% on ‘Rito-In-Cog-NEAT-O serving days.
Check out the variety of ‘Rito-In-Cog-NEAT-O burritos here.