A Recipe for Success, revisited

Last week, at a meeting, I was reminded about what I call the recipe for success.   5 “C’s” that encapsulate the strategies that we have used in our district to achieve lasting success in changing school nutrition times. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do have some thoughts regarding our “formula” for success. In a past blog post, I boiled down my thoughts into what I call the 5 C’s.  I am adding a 6th C to my so called recipe: Culinary training.  Read on…

1. Culture: It is important to pay attention to the culture of the area, the culture of your schools, current market trends & market demographics.   What I mean by this is… know your market.  For some districts in the south, finding whole grain grits was a major issue.  Our northern students wouldn’t know what to do if we served them grits, not being familiar with that particular food item.  We faced other challenges, including procurement: finding acceptable whole grain tortillas for wraps, consistent availability of all whole grain items from our distributers, etc.    But, paying attention to the culture means knowing what the kids in your geographical area like to eat & are used to eating, and finding ways to offer similar fare within your own eating establishment and within the USDA guidelines. By giving your customers what they want AND following the guidelines, you will achieve success.  

2. Collaborate: Collaboration is key to the success – Collaboration with administration, parents, staff and students. Building bridges with families, and gaining support from district administrators fosters a culture that welcomes the positive results that change brings.

Having the necessary support from your district’s administrators is essential, but even more important is building bridges and getting “buy in” from the customers – students and parents.  Our district’s after school “cooking club” has become wonderful way to foster the relationship between the school nutrition program and families.  Families get to meet school nutrition personnel, taste actual recipes that are being made and served in the cafeteria.  Taste testing and/or cooking in the classroom with students is also a great way to introduce students to new foods, new recipes and menu items.  Allowing students the opportunity to name the recipe takes this collaboration one step further.

3. Creativity: Creativity helps to keep the changes fresh and new, allowing our customers to stay interested & engaged. Adding creative touches to menus, cafeteria environment and by featuring theme menus, market trends and other innovations creates excitement and generates increased meal participation.

In our district, monthly “Fun Friday Breakfasts” have had a positive impact on breakfast participation at our elementary schools.  We have seen a sustained 30% growth in our breakfast average daily participation by hosting a once a month themed breakfast.  Popular themes include sports themes (think: Super Bowl) and “Frozen” theme, featuring “Olaf” string cheese and hot cocoa muffins.  We have even had an “Angry Bird” Fun Friday Breakfast and a “Fruit Ninja” themed breakfast.  Keep it fun – they will keep coming 🙂

We have also recently incorporated theme lunches which have further served to engage our students and build participation. Opening Day Baseball theme, Farm to School Theme, Super Bowl, Holidays, district sporting events…. any day is fair game for a theme menu infused with excitement.

Fun Monster Sandwiches for a Halloween Lunch

Need ideas to boost your school nutrition program’s creativity level?  One good place to start is to join the Facebook group “Tips for School Meals That Rock”.    This group has become an endless source of inspiration, sharing and support.  A curated “google” for School Nutrition…. There are close to 6000 members.   Check it out & hang out a bit there if you aren’t already there!   I can guarantee you’ll find inspiration & support!  

4. Communication: We have found that communicating has been a key essential strategy throughout the change process. Communication = Marketing, and through marketing we have kept our customers & their families informed. Marketing can be done on menus, emails, newsletters, websites, and via social media sites. Families want to know how hard we are striving to provide healthy, nutritious meals.

Social media has become a powerful tool for us.   Offering  photographic documentation & evidence of our menu and events lends credibility and authenticity.  Growing fresh produce in your school garden?  Post a photo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or Snapchat.  Are students excited about school meals? Post a photo (make sure you have the proper release, of course) of happy students enjoying their school meals. Families want to know & trust that their kids are being fed delicious, healthy meals.  Many of today’s parents are millennials, who expect communications to happen in a digital format. Our journey to healthier meals brought many changes. Social media was our key strategy for informing the community about the changes that were happening. In the past 6 years, or so, our primary source of marketing has been through Social Media: Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. During this time we have seen a significant increase in both breakfast & lunch participation. (approx 80% at breakfast and 15% at lunch)

No matter what communication strategy you choose…. don’t lose this point: Marketing is essential.

5. Culinary Training –   Continual Culinary trainings & culinary boot camps have become the norm for us, constantly working alongside our staff, empowering them & building them up. Knife skills training, recipe development:   we have strategized and trained our staff in proper techniques for preparing whole grains, seasoning blends to decrease sodium, scratch cooking tips & techniques…  we are constantly strived to improve and impress.  

Yearly Culinary Bootcamp for School Nutrition Staff

6. . Constantly Changing: We are constantly changing and always adapting – as we tweak recipes, adjust menus, re-organizing work strategies and procure new product. It is a lot of work, but extremely rewarding – when you receive a simple email from a parent thanking you for introducing a child to many new foods or a note from students… it makes all of the work absolutely worth it. Successful strategies in school nutrition take a lot of work, but the end results: well nourished students ready to learn & achieve, positive support from families, the community, increasing participation… these results make it all worth while. We are #FeedingTheFuture!

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