The Good To Go station in the cafeteria of the Executive Education Academy Charter School in Allentown, Pa., offers color-coded meal components to students, giving them the ability to choose items quickly to assemble a reimbursable meal that is free to all students. That’s because the meal program managed by Lintons Food Service Management operates under federal Community Eligibility Program (CEP) provisions, allowing all students to eat for free, regardless of payment status.
Executive Education Academy is a campus with three schools—kindergarten, elementary (grades 1-5) and middle/high school (grades 6-12)—encompassing a total of some 1,300 students, and each of the three levels has its own cafeteria. Good To Go is available only in the middle/high school cafeteria for its 600-plus students, and is one of several choices that also include a made-to-order salad station, a pizza station and a hot line in a scatter system layout with four checkouts. The kindergarten cafeteria, meanwhile, serves family style while the elementary cafeteria operates a traditional trayline service.
In the middle/high school cafeteria, speed and efficiency are paramount considerations as each 20-minute lunch period must serve over 200 students in the first 10 minutes to give them time to eat, says Russell Hengst, vice president of operations for the Lintons Education Division. Lintons is an FM Top 50 contract management company based in Blue Bell, Pa.
“This helps ensure that when they get to the register, they already have all the required items, so they don’t have to go back and get something to meet the [reimbursable meal requirement],” Hengst explains.
He says the idea for Good To Go came from the realization that students are used to the choice and convenience offered by commercial establishments like the Wawa c-store chain, so that familiarity could be used to the school meal program’s advantage.
“It’s all about speed of service, for both the kids and the client,” Hengst explains, “so we took that Wawa concept and used an airscreen so they don’t have to open doors or anything. They just reach in and grab the items they want, then head for the register.”
The Lintons team at Executive Education Academy came up with the color-coding idea because they wanted to encourage reimbursable meal sales by making the process as quick and easy as possible. So while students do have the option to take individual items as a la carte selections, they have to pay for them while the CEP qualifying component combos are free, and the coding reduces the inconvenience factor of assembling the qualifying meal.
Good To Go also offers the kind of choice youngsters crave, giving them more control over what is in their meal combo. The fruit and vegetable choices depend in part on seasonality along with perennial favorites like carrots, while sandwich and salad options rotate, usually with three choices of each a day. In addition, yogurts and yogurt parfaits are available every day.
On a typical day, 150 to 200 students choose the Good To Go station, Hengst offers, while the rest opt for the pizza or made-to-order salads available daily, or the hot entrée of the day.
In addition to color coding the different components, each item in the Good To Go cooler is also marked with an alphabet designation (“P” for protein, etc.) and the reimbursable meal components and the requirements they meet are also posted on a wall chart nearby. Items meeting multiple component requirements are marked with multiple colors and letters. To further smooth the way, the program was explained at a student gathering before Good To Go rolled out, but Hengst says they grasped it pretty quickly and there have been few hang-ups.
The Good To Go cooler sits in a space that previously had milk refrigerators. The milk is now part of the Good To Go selection. Restocking the cooler is generally done after each lunch period, though if some items deplete more quickly, a staffer stands by to replenish it.
Good To Go currently operates only at Executive Education Academy but Lintons plans to introduce it to other schools where it operates