What is today’s goal?
Lynn Shavinsky: We are so excited to have this many people join us today. I think it speaks to the fact that this industry has shown amazing flexibility and commitment to feed children under any circumstance and you all recognize there are many more changes on the horizon for Fall. But, it is taking a lot of effort for you to get through each of these current weeks and you would like some help for Fall. While we can not provide you specific answers, we do hope to provide you an organized list of questions that will help guide both you and the other stakeholders in your programs to make some plans for Fall. What are the right questions to ask for my situation and What should I begin to do in preparation? That is what we hope to start with this discussion.
Kristen Lindorf: Thank you so much Laura and Lynn, Our discussion today is designed to get your thoughts going about the HOW of next year’s food service. Of course options are endless, and it would be difficult to cover every alternative, so our goal is to get you going in the right direction early. We are basing our topics on things that have been written, experiences we have had or information that has been shared with us. Today we want to share lots of questions to get you thinking and considering all possibilities. What are the who, what, where, where, how and why of the options. What are the pros and cons for your sites? These questions are not designed to overwhelm you or remind you about all of the answers you don’t have yet. They are to help you begin thinking analytically so you can make a strategic plan to move forward. In Part 2, next week, we will do more analysis and try to address best practices for implementation, including suggestions and advice from two experts in the field.
Kristen Lindorf: We have broken the discussion into 5 steps: Waivers and Regulation, Distributors, Service Locations, Menu Planning and Service Considerations. We’ll go through each in detail and highlight the most important issues. The more you understand where you are, the better you’ll be able to set the action items for where you are going.
Regulations and Waivers
Lynn Shavinsky: Despite the adjustments during this spring, We are still a federal program that follow state laws so we have to start with the rules and regulations. As you know, we are operating under many different waivers right now, all which apply to SSO and SFSP (summer) that are set to expire at the end of Sept. You return in August to school! If school is in session, summer programs are not really in effect! You will need to clearly understand the current set of regulations and potential new waivers for both USDA and your state, as well as the health department. Again, It is likely each state will have to get their own waiver approvals in the Fall if there are new waivers or extensions. And, like in March, USDA and your state must have the waiver accepted to claim meals accordingly. So, check your state website regularly for changes and updates- do not just wait for the written notice. Most importantly, remember that waivers are just that – waivers, not the regulations. Adjustments to the program have expirations and if things go back to “normal” during your next school year, you must comply with the regulations. Because there are likely to be many transitions through your year, set your program up to be fully compliant. Then, if there are difficulties, check in with your state and share those issues. But, Plan your program for compliance – the contingency plans, the transition plans and the “normal” plans.
Kristen Lindorf: There are several questions to ask related to the expiration of current waivers and what the waivers have been. Some would include:
What menu plan are we using? NSLP? If only certain students attend school and others have no school, do I need to apply for Summer Seamless? SFSP? Or even CACFP option? Will there still be waivers in effect for non-congregate feeding of CACFP into next year? Are there waivers for specific foods or meal contributions that are difficult to get? What had to be provided as proof that something was difficult to obtain? Can you get that documentation? How do I ensure a compliant meal and count it to the correct student under different feeding scenarios? Will my regular point of service work under this new situation? Is the alternative option approved? Does it prevent overt identification of participants?
If you are being asked to prepare for a situation that contradicts any rules, it is imperative that you ask your state reviewers for input.
Lynn Shavinsky: And, although some schools are experiencing huge numbers for feeding now, in the school setting, you may be limited to feeding only school students. This may make what you are currently doing unfeasible. Or you may have to have one service for students in school and another for sites if perhaps your students return on alternate days. Will you be able to offer feeding to the community again? What if the school schedule ends before lunch? Will meals be able to be removed from the feeding site? Do I need to change my program type to accommodate if there is another option? Will this be long term?
Some of you may experience the opposite and feed more, when the students are back in school. Those of you with higher paying student populations will have to concentrate on all the other issues AND making school meals appealing. How do you make school meals a better, safer, tastier, faster option than what a parent would send? Watching what happens in the restaurant industry when it opens will be a strong indicator of what you may see in school meals.
Which brings us to the other local regulator, the health department. While there was flexibility when COVID first started, if you are returning to school, the expectation is that safe service requirements will apply.
What health department regulations are there for your style or location of service, or for new service options? You may never have used mobile carts around your building, what are the rules related to them? What are the local rules for Take out foods? For Food Handler permits? For hand washing equipment?
Lynn Shavinsky: Once you determine the rules, the next step is to talk with your distributor. While they will make every effort to provide you the food you want, there may be foods that are harder to get, going to be higher in price or are simply unavailable. Find out what they know before planning a whole service method around impossible to get IW foods or highly expensive vegetables that will be in short supply. Depending on what begins to happen as states “open”, what distributors have in stock will be changing. When restaurants were closed, they had restaurant foods that they needed to move at a discount. If restaurants open, that will change. Likewise, If camps then colleges open, those locations will be drawing more of the same food you use, possibly making some harder to get.
Kristen Lindorf: If you want distributors to supply you with things that are different than what you bid or have used in the past, remember it is a two way street – they need to know what you want so they can provide it. The questions to ask here are- Did you provide usage estimates to your distributor? Are they accurate for your initial service style?
Reach out to them to ask what foods are readily available? What kind of lead time do they need? We have been hearing that distributors were needing close to a 4 week lead time now, the fall will likely be more with the increased demand..
When will they deliver to your sites? Will your delivery dates change? Do they have foods they are having trouble selling that you can use? Do they have specials? What else can you do together to make things work smoothly? Do they foresee any supply problems? Such as those with Tyson pork or Smuckers. What is the outlook for prepackaged product or the items that will have been or may be mainstays on your menu?
Lynn Shavinsky: You may also want to talk about bids or seasonal quotes. We have heard that prices are likely to go up for food because COVID has disrupted the supply chain. We already know there was difficulty in certain market segments (dairy, produce, pork) which may result in long term price increases and unavailability.
Are any items that are problems on your bid? If looking to use IW, Did you have IW items on bid? Can you get quotes for these, if you intend to use them long term in order to control pricing and availability? And, While you may use IW for the first month, if your goal is to serve scratch food, have you planned to get those foods in and at what price and with how much notice?
Consider creating some early forecasting for each type of menu and letting the distributor know what you will and will not be using from an original bid. Simply ordering pc instead of gallon ketchup may not be a big deal for one school but if suddenly all the schools and restaurants and colleges that your distributor supplies change their orders, you will all get to experience shortages, substitutions and be scrambling to make adjustments. Get out in front of your orders and plan for a contingency. I had heard a great story from a director who had put wrapped sandwiches on her bid for sack lunches just to control costs but she used only a few. Then, with COVID, having those items on bid helped her to have a ready alternative that was within her budget!
Kristen Lindorf: Ask yourself which food segments allow you to control pricing? Do you have produce prices on bid or quote or through DOD?
Do you have agreements with local farms? Can you quote purchases from them to maintain a reasonable price? The same conversations with dairy producers would be important You can’t change a bid but you should let your suppliers know about your expected numbers and non bid purchases. In addition to food bids, are your paper bids in line with your service? Many of you experienced paper product shortages and if take out continues, so will the high demand for these costly items. How can you keep your costs down and ensure availability of packaging?
Lynn Shavinsky: Also check in about commodity distribution from your state or co-op. USDA just announced it was buying more food to help the food chain. Some states were also looking at more IW processed foods. How might you access those new choices?
What is the expected timeframe for delivery of your regular items? Is it what was originally expected? Were adjustments made to those numbers? Were there Any delays of food going to processors or are there any expected? Has anyone spoken to the processors to find out their issues?
USDA is likely to have some updates so monitor the commodity situation through their website and checking with manufacturer partners and brokers. The bottom line is you can’t know everything occurring in the market that will impact you in two to nine months from now. However, your distributor is planning in advance for that so have a conversation with each vendor to find out how you can support each other.
Have you been informed about your feeding style for next year?
Kristen Lindorf: We ask this question in this manner because while you are feeding children, there are many other stakeholders who will have input into what will happen this Fall. The CDC has come out already to suggest non-congregate feeding, specifically, in the classroom and many of your locations might want to announce it now and follow in line. Some of you may have already been given that directive. However, you are on the front lines- you will be the one implementing this. You have unique insight as to the practicality of these recommendations in practice. You need to provide your voice to the decision or the process about how and where lunch will be served.
How can we make this simpler?
Lynn Shavinsky: Remember that suggested “classroom feeding” does not mean the same thing for everyone. It may not even be possible for some. Based upon your state regs, the influence of Covid in your area, some of the considerations we are discussing and even the physical layout from one school to another, each site may be different. Your goal is to prepare for multiple service options in both non-congregate and congregate feeding. There may not be one single answer for the entire year. You may have to consider multiple options throughout the year. There is no linear plan to follow. It is complex and confusing. The best way to prepare is to brainstorm all possibilities. Lay out the pros and cons of each and if chosen, what are the roadblocks you will need help with. This way, you can be prepared if nothing new is required but you will have done your homework and be able to provide input and create solutions for alternatives that may be presented.
Where will you serve at the start of next year?
Kristen Lindorf: This gives us an idea of what most of you have considered or been told.
Kristen Lindorf: First, a place will have to be identified to feed students. Also, recognize that where you feed will also be determined by how long you have to provide that kind of service. You may have to have a plan for a week, a month, a semester, a full year or perhaps it will continually be adjusted depending upon outbreaks. You need to be able to transition between different locations. “How long” you serve this way- will influence your decisions just as much as where.
Lynn Shavinsky: Will you be feeding in a non-congregate setting? This might be the classroom, hallway or small designated area within or outside of the school. It may also be a continuation of take away meals. Feeding in this setting has a number of considerations.
Many of you have experience with Breakfast in the Classroom. It may be a reasonable transition for you to do all of your meals in this same manner. It would certainly make implementation easier since you have a model to follow, but lunch may be different because of the food choices, the staffing or the need for greater participation than breakfast.
Consider some options:
Individually packaged meals delivered to the classroom -Do you have the staff to package and pack before lunch? How will you deliver? Can you provide an appealing menu this way? What foods can be included and what can not? How long could you do this service? How will you know who gets which meal? Will this increase your food cost? Is the classroom set up for students to eat? What about trash? OVS at the HS level? Is this appealing enough for paid students? What about allergies in the classroom?
Krsiten Lindorf: Mobile carts serving directly outside of a classroom? This may limit congregation but how much longer will it take? Does this accommodate student choices? Do I have the equipment? Are there physical considerations for the staff? Are there temperature issues? How do I replenish? What foods can I serve and can be eaten in class?
Service in multiple locations and students come to you – Do you have equipment and staff for more than one service location? How many stations can feed how many students? Can you offer all menu choices? Can students carry these food choices without drops?
Lynn Shavinsky: Classroom dismissal to the cafeteria-Service is a known option but what about carrying trays, temperature, how much longer will this take, who coordinates the classrooms,
Combination Meals Some prepackaged food (as simple as milk cartons) could be delivered to the classroom and another service method is used for the remainder of the meal? Will these meals be compliant? Who is point of service? Do you have staff to deliver and serve?
There seem to be endless combinations of classroom service so consider what makes the most sense, weight the pros and cons and be prepared.
Kristen Lindorf: Timing is also important to consider. Some schools, like High Schools, may have to make significant adjustments to their schedules to accommodate non-congregate feeding.
Thinking through questions like- Are there enough classrooms for lunch to be served and have students in classes? How will students be assigned to locations to eat? Do they return to homerooms mid-day or eat in a location during a certain period of the day? Is the lunch period long enough to get food and get to a classroom to eat it? Do you have enough portable service lines to get to the wings/buildings where students may have to stay? If the schedules are set like this in the beginning of the school year, will there be a way to adjust them later?
Lynn Shavinsky: We must also consider that there might be shifts of students or rolling dismissals. Some students may attend on certain days and others on the alternate days. Perhaps we are still able to have take away meal service, similar to what we are doing now and through summer. What kind of distribution will you provide? Will you use the buses to send meals and students home? How will you accommodate names for claiming? How do you protect Free and Reduced eligibility if some students get meals and others do not? Will the meals for students in school be the same as those not in school?
Lynn Shavinsky: Eventually, most people are going to want to move back into a congregate feeding option, even if not initially. Afterall, we had “lunchrooms” and eating is a social event, so we will want to use that space again. What options do we have for non-congregate feeding? We may have cafeteria seating in different scenarios at different times so what are the pros and cons of each.
Kristen Lindorf: Maintaining social distance will be important, at least initially in congregate feeding. And then consider how to transition through the preparation, delivery and service steps as social distancing moves from real distance between students to being careful to normal.
How long will this take?
Kristen Lindorf: If you can bring everyone together, what are the savings and costs of prep time, delivery and service in each option? We may be able to cut down the prep time but how will you address the time for delivery, service and eating of the meal? Most everyone in the past had some kind of line for meals. Where can you physically line up the students?
You will need to determine why you have lines and then try to identify the solution that works with social distancing as well. Is the line because the elementary students are just slow and need help carrying their food? Is there a line because middle school students want to see their choices before picking their meal? Could this be eliminated with menu boards and clear signage? Do you just have too many kids released at one time? Is one type of food choice more popular than others – is your grill line is always longer than your asian bar – can you balance that out? Can you set up more food service stations? Will you need more cashiers or points of service if you do that? Can you “pre-serve” certain items on the tables like milk? Can we consider some different service methods? Could you serve food items “family style” so that you eliminate lines and only a small classroom group share the bulk food at a table? Could your staff serve as waitstaff, banquet style. They carry/push large trays of food and serve each child seated at the tables already.
Lynn Shavinsky: Can you use alternative large spaces? How might you serve in the gym – combination of mobile service and spaced seating? What about an auditorium? What about in hallways and large common areas? Can you staff multiple large feeding area?
Being an east coaster, I grew up with cafeterias but those did not exist in Southern California locations. Students ate outside, everyday, in most kinds of weather. Is that a possibility? Do you have outdoor seating? Can students bring blankets for “picnic style” seating outside? Do you have the right equipment for serving outside? How will you accommodate trays or utensils when the wind blows? What are the health dept. rules?
This brings us to another consideration for congregate feeding – self-serve. CN prided ourselves on our fresh fruit and vegetable bars, extensive salad bars, topping bars, flavor stations, condiment stations, and build your own choices. Now, even having a bin of forks exposed to every set of hands coming through your line will likely not be acceptable. How can you adjust these self serve choices to be more sanitary, maintain limited labor, continue to offer appealing options and keep the cost reasonable? Where are all the points of touch from the public or student and how can you minimize that?
With each location, consideration will have to be given to the time it takes for preparation, delivery and service.
Non-Food Service Labor
Kristen Lindorf: Consider the people who might usually help with your traditional meal service. We will talk staff labor later but what about non-food service helpers? Are they still available to assist you? Can they keep socially distant? Obviously, if teachers are going to be in the classroom, what role will they have in serving meals? Cashier? Server? Aide? When will they get lunch? Did you use Aides previously to help all students in the line, open cartons of milk, carry trays? Will they be available? Will you have to supply the labor or the payment?
Did you use student servers or volunteer servers? Will those individuals be allowed to do so again? How will you ensure they use good hygiene and maintain distance? Will you have enough staff without those individuals to assist? Can you get more assistance to keep moving the lines? And if you had been using bus drivers for home delivery , are you able to still do that?
Have you planned your menu?
Lynn Shavinsky: Now that we know what rules to follow, and where we will serve, let’s talk about your menu- How many of you have already planned your menu? Let’s see with this poll.
Lynn Shavinsky: As we always say, the menu drives your business. This is most definitely the case now as well. But, Believe it or not, the menu is one of the easier things to control,. While you may have all these considerations for rules, locations and service, YOU KNOW FOOD SERVICE. If you plan for the existing rules, consider all the options of locations and think about adjusting for prep, service and delivery you can carefully plan foods that will allow you to function in all of these situations. That will save tremendous time and allow smooth transitions.
The key to writing the menu is to really think about it. Which foods can you serve that will work no matter the situation. For example, if you put hamburgers on the menu, there are many suppliers of that product available for different needs: precooked and uncooked burgers, IW and bulk, multiple choices within the burger category for variety such as cheeseburgers, vegan burgers, turkey burgers and sourcing can be from USDA brown box, processors and commercially purchased. Burgers are easy to prep in limited spaces and can be delivered as IW, bulk or put together. They are quick to serve and not messy to carry (or if they spill). They are even pretty easy to package to be sent home. Consider similar menu choices that provide that consistency across any service or delivery style.
Kristen Lindorf: It may take longer to write your menu initially with these thoughtful considerations but if you put in the time, it will make adjusting to any changes throughout the year much easier. Health-e Pro always advocates for some type of cycle menu – it helps planning, ordering and costing and this covid “return to school” time is no exception. In fact, it is even more important now. Maybe you normally do a 20 day cycle. In the beginning of school, perhaps make the menu for 10 days and repeat it. This allows you to get some idea of participation levels, acceptance of menu items, ordering consistency, cost consistency. Then, as you get more data, gradually make substitutions into the second ten days until your cycle is 20 different days. This gives you a slow adjustment to a time frame that may have many other variables.
What is going to be on my menu?
Lynn Shavinsky: Because the menu impacts your expenses – food, labor, paper, equipment needs but also drives income from participation, you need to consider how to balance for each service type. Can I create a fiscally sound menu for this meal service? What is the budget for a meal? Limiting inventory to certain consistent products that can be made into different options as your meal service changes, will help with costing, forecasting participation and ordering. A compact easy to serve burrito can easily be served as tacos or nachos as your service changes.
Does your participation really fluctuate? What menu have driven your previous level of participation? Was it reliant upon offering choices? Build your own options? Current trends in food?
What will the expectation of your students be? Do they get scratch food from you? What happens if you serve IW items then? Have students been getting cold sandwiches since March? I spoke to one district that said they were serving their famous street tacos in the drive through line and students from the neighboring district started coming to their location because they were only getting cold sandwiches daily in their home district. Students in the one district will certainly expect those tacos and the other students will likely not want more cold sandwiches. Children returning in the fall will be faced with more changes again. Can you manage their expectations.
What other service considerations are there?
Kristen Lindorf: The final area we will discuss is perhaps the hardest to plan for- other service considerations. These are the areas like food safety and labor that will have a significant impact on your success.
Food Safety is going to be critical. Not just because school systems and the public are much more aware and concerned about things like handwashing, use of gloves and working when sick, but because it is directly related to illnesses – COVID AND food borne illness. While a sniffle might not have caught anyone’s attention before, it will be noticed now. Will absenteeism become even greater? How are you going to deal with even mildly sick workers? How will you get subs?
Perception of illness and safety is as much a concern as actual food safety. We mentioned self service and buffet lines. Open food, no matter how appealing may no longer be a welcomed option. If you are able to maintain it, how will you assure self serve options are not only safe but are perceived as safe? How will you ensure participants washed their hands correctly? Consider not just salad bars but all places where the customer touches condiments, utensils, straws, pinpads, and even milk cartons which students can drink from directly.
Lynn Shavinsky: Another consideration is food temperature. There may be a long time between prep to service in the last classroom or out on a cart or outside service. How will you ensure the food temperature of both hot and cold items? Insulated carts or bags or pans? Are your carts mobile but need to be plugged in? Do you have enough people to move a hot cart, cold cart and service cart around to all your locations during service? Food borne illness affects 1 in 6 Amercians each year: that is a greater risk than COVID 19, What is your HACCP plan? Does everyone read it and follow the steps? Could you track an outbreak using your plan? While schools have traditionally been excellent at following safety requirements, your return to school may not follow your regular procedures so how familiar is everyone with good procedure?. Do a walk through of your service areas to look for handwashing, trash disposal, electric outlets, accessibility roadblocks. What would adversely affect food safety in a new service? What might you need that you do not have?
Kristen Lindorf: Equipment may be a roadblock for certain types of service. Can you get the equipment you need in time for school start? Mobile carts, heating units, tongs and plexiglass separators? There are grants available and manufacturers are trying to help but do you even have the money? Is this equipment available? Can you look for alternatives? like insulated bags or heating stones and bricks instead of a plug in cart? Many of you have already added new equipment for your current delivery systems. Can that equipment be used in a different manner inside in a different layout? Could you rent equipment for short term use?
Lynn Shavinsky: One of the long term issues with our response to Covid is the skyrocketing of single use items and disposables. Everyone must use PPE, use of reusable bags and cups have been suspended, and some recyclers are no longer collecting. And, especially in our industry, transportable items must be packaged. First, can you even get the packaging? Then, how will you deal with food and packaging garbage in every room and throughout the building? How many cafeteria garbage cans can be put into classrooms or the hallways? Food bank donation and sharing tables may not be acceptable to reserve items touched by others. Can you accommodate offer vs serve if you are packaging? What will the teachers say when their classroom smells like cooked broccoli or spoiled milk?
Kristen Lindorf: And the single biggest issue when you return is likely to be labor. It was the number one issue before Covid so it is likely to mushroom. The lack of personnel may actually be the single biggest indicator for how you do things in the Fall.
First, you will need to know if your staff feels safe enough to return. Our staff population tends to be a little older and may be nervous about working. How can you ensure a safe work environment? Is social distancing able to be applied? Are PPE or masks supplied by you? Is it feasible for them to prepare the food in separation in your locations? Are your food shields for service and cashiers set up and at the right height for children? Can you accommodate staff in other roles if they do not return to the kitchen or you do not need them for service?
Also, what is the protocol for staff members, who prepare and serve meals, present with symptoms or illness? What happens to the food prepared by them the previous day? Do your sanitation procedures account for where they worked? What sort of quarantine options might be enacted? How strongly written and enforced are your HACCP plans?
Lynn Shavinsky: Secondly, will you have enough staff members to fulfill the service and delivery needs for the feeding style you choose. If you change the feeding style, how will that impact staffing? What are the differences between the staffing non-congregate feeding and then congregate feeding? If you have never done classroom feeding, there are a lot of people impacted that may not be focused on food service – teachers, aides, custodians, office staff, – Then it shifts the focus of your staff from service to prep? What will have to be changed? What time changes are required? If your staff is not the point of service, who will be and how do you ensure they understand the requirements? How much additional time will that take? Charges, changed minds, documentation of child and meal, are all areas that you will be responsible for, even if your staff is not delivering the food directly to the child. Is the time creating a new system realistic or even worthwhile? How can you address preordering, lunch counts, account balances? While everyone is supportive right now, my experience is that asking teachers or aides to take on meal counts for breakfast and lunch that lessens their instructional and even their meal time, is not an easy conversation to have. How can you guarantee they will deliver reimbursable meals for each count? Some of these changes will require you to work very closely with principals, administrators and maybe even bargaining units. What are the implications of your bargaining contracts for your employees? Do you even have the ability to adjust positions, hours, or duties?
Kristen Lindorf: Unemployment may initially be high when we return and our positions offer good salary and some benefits but will that be enough to attract new employees? What creative means can you seek to advertise jobs? When should you start advertising if you will not need everyone initially at the start of school? How will you get them trained in the basic food handling requirements? Can you get word out through unemployment and your local Chamber of Commerce that you are hiring? Can you work with your HR department to focus on filling your positions?
Unfortunately, despite all the other challenges of changing regulations, getting food, serving locations, designing a menu, labor is likely to continue to be a concern throughout the upcoming year because of the cost, numbers of staff needed in transition, and how to utilize existing staff. The people in Child Nutrition have shown to be the strength of this program. How can you best protect and effectively use them?
Laura Thompson: We know we have thrown a lot of questions at you during this discussion. As we said, our intent is to get you to consider options. We will provide a checklist of questions to help guide you in making your plan for Fall. In next week’s webinar, we will talk more about some answers to the questions we raised.
Which type of service would you want to know more about?
Laura Thompson: Thank you Lynn and Kristen for getting us to consider options for service in the Fall. We hope that we have not overwhelmed you with questions but encouraged you to start questioning all the areas of your program to map them into a plan for Fall.
Thank you for joining us today. Please join us next week at this same time when Maureen Pisanick and Jen McNeil, two highly experienced Child Nutrition experts will talk about the specifics involved in executing and sharing your plans.