Kelly Rambeau, director of nutrition and wellness for the Pelham School District, sees this time of crisis as an unprecedented challenge, of course, but also “an opportunity we might never have again.”
“If you truly think about it, when might we ever get the chance to hand deliver meals home to families and show parents what our nutrition department is truly capable of,” says Rambeau. “We always have the students as our customer,s but look at this opportunity we have been given to have the parents and guardians as our audience as well.”
Currently, the team is serving about 785 students a day. With breakfast and lunch, that’s 7,850 meals a week.
In order to streamline operations, the district gathered staff from three schools to work in one kitchen on staggered days. “That means I have three managers working together,” Rambeau says. Again, this is a mixed bag of challenge and opportunity.
“There are definitely challenges and benefits to having all of your staff members who normally don’t work together be working together on a completely new program,” Rambeau says, adding that organization is a key bedrock to build a new and different program with short notice.
That led to nixing the idea of a white board or wall in the kitchen covered with flyers and lists of procedures for staff. Instead, Rambeau set up a prep information board right in the middle of the kitchen, on the side of a food warmer.
“I would often hear, ‘How many do we have of this?’ or ‘Oh, I thought we had the correct count on this prepped item or no, we only counted 685, but I counted 698,’” she explains. “So, to try and eliminate all of that, I came up with this prep information board for my staff to be able to communicate what they have finished at the end of the day and what we might need to start with on the next day, especially with staff rotating in and all working different days.”
Another way to streamline operations—prep especially—has been the introduction of make-your-own meals, something the kids like, Rambeau says, so it’s a win-win.
“We have found that students like to customize things to make them their own, so we thought this would be a way to do that,” she says. “All of the food is prepped for them and portioned out and they just assemble it when the meals get delivered to them. We found that this cuts down on labor and prep time for the staff who are making the meals.”
Make-it-yourself meals have included barbecue pulled pork flatbreads with hummus packs on the side, Caesar salad kits, Buffalo chicken wraps and more, each with components packed separately.
The system, which hasn’t switched to the summer feeding program yet (“but things are changing daily,” Rambeau notes), is chugging along and fulfilling Rambeau’s vision of showing the community “what the Pelham Nutrition Department is made of,” she says. “I truly have to thank my staff for working extremely hard every day, going above and beyond to make my crazy ideas come to life. This might have been the simplest option, but it took a few extra steps to make it happen. They have the same passion that I have and wanted this remote feeding to be a success.”
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