School Lunch Programs: Up Quality and Reduce Cost

Vol. 14 No. 8

businessmanager eletter Vol14 No8 school lunch

School-provided lunches are notorious for their unappealing presentation and tasteless “mystery meat”—at least, at most public schools. Up the ante on your school’s lunch program by increasing meal quality through smart investments that ultimately save your school’s bottom line while encouraging students to eat in the cafeteria.

Invest in Your People

A good cook can make a shoe taste great to hungry students and faculty. A good manager can take a corresponding shoestring budget and invest it wisely to generate the greatest bang for your buck.

Therefore, if you’re revamping your school’s lunch program, consider putting the greatest amount of money toward the people running the show: The manager and the cooks. These people should not only be able to produce healthy and delicious meals, but also guide budgeting and purchases to get the greatest bang for your buck. (Otherwise, you may upgrade the cafeteria’s range cooking abilities when what it really needed was a new freezer to make it past the health inspection.)

You may also consider outsourcing meals to external vendors, but be careful to weigh the extra cost of having a vendor make your food as opposed to preparing it in-house—where you can probably make the meals more cheaply, but must also budget for salaries and facilities maintenance or upgrades.

Whether you prepare on-site or outsource to trusted vendors, a knowledgeable point person on staff who is in charge to drive the change and execute the new lunch plan will be worth his or her weight in gold.

Healthy, Tasty, and Cheap

Getting American students to eat healthy can be a trick and a half, as kids can and will reject healthy options as inedible, in favor of fattening-but-tasty choices. But if school lunch programs try to offer tasty-yet-healthy options, the production cost can start to rise beyond that of a sustainable budget, even if students are charged for their meals.

So, come up with healthier alternatives of bulk foods that are tasty, but not straining to the bottom line. We have some suggestions to start you off, but this is another place where hiring the right meal program manager can really save your school time and money while providing meals that students actually want to eat!

  • Try out a potato bar with all the fixings! Potatoes are relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare, while filling up possibly persnickety students.
  • Encourage alternative, creative sources of protein that don’t require more cuts of expensive meat to be prepared, like special bean or egg recipes that can be prepared in bulk.
  • Soups of the day are another inexpensive, easy bulk item that can add variety to a student’s lunch—while providing the necessary fruits and vegetables for a healthy lunch option.
  • Consider sourcing your food locally, and make deals with community farmers and food providers. They’ll gain a steady source of income, and your school can have fresh ingredients possibly provided for a lower cost. (If you’d like to really go local, encourage the start of a school garden, from which students can learn to grow, harvest, and prepare their food!)

Does your school boast a successful—and profitable—school lunch program? Share your stories with your fellow Business Managers in the comment section below, or online at LinkedIn or Twitter.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Business Managers Vol. 9 No. 8 Sustainable Lunch Programs
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 7 "What's for Lunch?" —Private Schools Providing Healthy Meals

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 29 No. 6 Food Services for Day Schools: Mission and Planning
I&P Vol. 29 No. 8 Food Services for Day Schools: Student Wellness

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