Laura Thompson: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us today for our webinar. Are you ready for the new normal answers for smart meals strategies? My name is Laura Thompson and I am with healthy pro we provide menu planning, software and nutrient analysis for schools, CACFP, centers, management companies and more. Today we are joined with Jennifer McNeil and Maureen Pisanick.
Laura Thompson: So for our agenda today this webinar will be recorded and it will be made available on our website tomorrow. I’m going to start by introducing Jen and Maureen and then we’re going to have a little bit of a review from the data from last week’s webinar. We had a few poll questions and some interesting data that will help us frame the conversation for today. After that, we’ll have a discussion about planning for the fall. Last week we put what seemed like a thousand questions to you and we wanted to provide some possible answers for what you can do to start planning for the fall. We’re going to leave about 10 to 15 minutes at the end for an audience Q&A. So if you have any questions, please provide them through the Q&A platform on Zoom here. After that, we’re going to wrap up and I’m going to get started with introductions. Jen McNeil is a former child nutrition director and the founder of Lunch Assist. They provide inspiration, support and guidance for School Nutrition professionals trying to alleviate the pain points for companies around menu planning, administrative reviews, complex regulations. If you’ve seen their website around Covi-19 resources, you know that they have a lot of resources that are incredibly helpful.
Laura Thompson: Maureen Pisanick is also a former child nutrition director and is the CEO and founder of Panasonic partners. They are a consultant group that works with schools to collaborate with meeting the moving target of compliance, sharing best practices, and to continue with quality improvement and assurances on a daily basis. They’re committed to creating recipes with wholesome ingredients to fuel healthy lives. And now more than ever, they’re committed to being your advocate in this industry to get food supplies and recipes you need to have ready-to-use turn-key solutions to navigate your program successfully. So before we get started on the discussion, here is some of the data that we had from last week. The first question we asked was have you been informed about your feeding for next year? And given the uncertainty going on right now, we’re not surprised that the majority of folks had not been informed about feeding for next year. When we asked how are you likely to serve to start next year, again, the majority were unsure, but next most selected choice was the classroom.
Laura Thompson: Jen, Maureen would love to hear from you about what is the latest regarding regulations and waivers. What have you seen, what do you recommend? Maureen, I know you’ve talked about best practices versus the wild wild West. Maybe you could start with that.
Maureen Pisanick: Sure. Thank you again for having us on. Certainly we hope to provide some answers. I think that’s all what we want. In this pivoting time, I think we are still responsible and I think that’s the biggest point here. That there are regulations and waivers, despite having to pivot very quickly. We had to realign our goals to be able to be successful. We’re not alone. We all benchmark with one another and really quickly mobilized some really awesome programs that you’ve seen out there via social media channels and in ways we communicate. With our colleagues here, we’ve seen really wonderful work on collaborations with industry partners as well as other local food service directors. A couple of examples I like to talk about, best practice examples that serve us well right now, but will carry into the fall for a solution is how do we really ensure the safety of our foodservice workers.
Maureen Pisanick: And so I’ll start by first saying a best practice on how do you keep your staff healthy and able to serve the meals that you want your students to have. One of our schools, Woodbridge Local Schools, set up a really great Google document and just like if you’re going to a dentist or a doctor, now you have to fill out a questionnaire to answer what your temperature is, what are your symptoms? You know, it’s the entire CDC model to not only contain the virus but to track and trace it. So this Google doc, which is a free way to do it, allows her every day to regulate those people that are working in the kitchen space for her prior to even coming in by self-reporting temperatures and symptoms. I’m taking it one step further. Her standard operating procedure is setting up a separate place where the staff come in for the day where it’s in the main office and the nursing clinic where she takes the temperature documents that has a signature and has PPE and hand-washing stations ready for her staff.
Maureen Pisanick: Prior to even getting into the cafeteria area. Again, segregation doing what we can to meet the CDC regulations for how to keep our operations safe and certainly our staff safe. Another best practice that I’ll talk about that talks a little bit to nail compliance is even though we are pivoting on a daily basis, sometimes even moment to moment, never to forget that really the tool that we use with our clients Health-e Meal Planner helps us be efficient and organized. So, I know some schools have opted not to use their software planning systems. And the fact that there is so much changing, but what we know now is that the schools that are able to do it have the paper trail, they need to show their production records if they’re on SSO, they have how they’ve met their weekly vegetable requirements.
Maureen Pisanick: So it’s all really very important while we’re pivoting not to just fly into a state of panic and work smarter, not harder, utilizing the tools we already have throughout best practice within the school year. I say the wild, wild West because I, I cringe and I often lose sleep; I hear quotes like, “We’re just winging it, or we’re going to ask for forgiveness instead of permission.” We hope to really review with you today that we still have to do the right thing, right? We have to comply. One example was there was a district that wanted to feed adults and their senior citizens in their community. While that’s a lovely thing and certainly on the optics of how they presented that for their community, it was really wonderful.
Maureen Pisanick: We all know as directors of program, that’s an administrative nightmare because the programs we are working within are for students and there are regulations that we still have to document and keep going. So speaking of that, there has been, I don’t know, 20 some-odd gazillion waivers. One of the silver linings to this pandemic cloud has been able to not only collaborate with local professionals, but meeting Jen from Lunch Assist to now I consider a dear colleague and friend and I go to her waiver section because she’s doing such an awesome job of kind of weaving through the web. So I’ll pass it to you, Jen.
Jen McNeil: Thanks Marine. And thanks for Laura as well for getting us started. And just really happy to be here today. I’m with Lunch Assist and we support schools all over. And as Maureen mentioned, we have some nice resources on our website. But before I get too far ahead of myself, I just want to take a moment to pause and just say thank you to everyone out there in the field and on the ground doing this important work. And I know I speak for all of us who are supporting schools that were just in awe of the work that you are doing. And it’s incredible the systems that you guys have built on the fly. Our goal today is just to give you a few little tips and tricks and food for thought to take away and empower you to continue making progress and to keep paddling.
Jen McNeil: I know this is a crisis that is not over, maybe not even halfway through right now. And so we have a long road ahead of us. When we look at all the regulations and waivers, it can be really confusing. And I spend most of my time working through audit regulations and paperwork for the schools that we support. I get really confused with these waivers and the QA memos and the numbers and they’re all numbered differently. So right now we have 21 waivers and then we have several Q&A documents. And together these give us a lot of flexibility. So some of the most important points right now regarding the USDA guidelines is that we have recently had some extensions through the summer.
Jen McNeil: So we have our non congregate and our service time and our parent meal pickup, those have all been extended through August. That’s something really important. If you didn’t hear the news about that, that’s really great for your summer planning. And then there are some other waivers like the meal pattern waiver that gives us a lot of flexibility but it’s really being extended on a month-to-month basis. So that one has now been extended through June 30th. And we do anticipate that being extended into the future, but probably not too far into it. So I would say that is something that we’ll see month-to-month until we no longer have supply chain shortages. And then we also have several QA memos that had given different flexibilities, such as the ability to serve in bulk, the ability to offer multiple day meals, meal delivery.
Jen McNeil: So there’s lots of good regulations that have been passed that give us flexibility. It’s just really navigating those and making sure that you understand what you’re allowed to do and the resources that we have. There’s some really great resources from No Kid Hungry that also has a waiver packet. So if you’re confused about that, those types of audits or those types of regulations, I would take a look at those resources. And then the other thing that I’ll say is, like Maureen mentioned, it’s a little bit of the Wild Wild West right now and we’re all kind of just building systems on the fly, but do make sure that you have your record keeping because we have a whole new world that we’re living in, but we still need to comply with requirements to keep records on file.
Jen McNeil: So there are certain waivers that you, it depends on your state, but there are certain waivers that you’ll need to actually file with the state and let them know that you’re using. And then there’s other waivers that are automatic to make sure that you keep copies of all the approvals through your waivers that you have on file and it’s very clear what you’ve elected to use and that you’re also keeping your regular paperwork. So things like your normal production record, so your normal temp logs, meal count forms, have that documentation, invoices, all of those usual record-keeping records. Keep those on file because you know there could be a chance that this paperwork gets pulled up on a future audit. I know several schools right now are wrapping up their administrative review and are having the month of May looked at in a seamless summer audit. So just a few little points on regulations and waivers and the compliance side of things.
Laura Thompson: All right, now we have a poll question. So if you are joining us, we would love to hear your thoughts on this. We’re going to launch the question now. Question is how have the USDA waivers impacted your program? We tried to get a little bit of humor in this. So one of the options is, Offered us more flexibility, Allowed us to open more feeding sites, Confused us, and All of the above. Let’s give this a few more seconds to get a few more votes in. All right, let’s take a look at these results. We’re looking at 58% offered us more flexibility, 28% all of the above. So it looks like this has been offering more flexibility, which is ideal in this situation. Jen, could you talk with us a little bit about supply chain considerations? I know you’ve had a lot of interesting experience around this.
Jen McNeil: I know that really everyone is struggling with supply chain issues right now and higher prices as well. Just as an example, one of the directors that we work with, Irene Vargas, who’s the director at Alisal school district in Salinas, California. She called me the very first week of the shutdowns and she couldn’t get any packaging for her meals. She comes from a zero-waste district that uses reusable trays and sporks and had no reserve of any packaging materials. And so she had to wait three weeks to get any bags or containers or anything. And now I see a lot more folks who are having trouble getting their food orders. I was on the phone with Trina from Westmoreland school district earlier this week and she ordered 50 cases and she got 12. And so whether it’s for packaged foods, packaging, raw proteins, or even chocolate milk, a lot of us are having trouble getting what they have ordered.
Jen McNeil: And so and you’re all experiencing this on the ground. Regarding supply chain issues, a few things that can be helpful on this topic are getting creative with packaging. So at Alisal they use some really creative foil wrapped with foil. Use what you got. We’re used to that in this industry. And now, more than ever, we have to draw upon those creative skills to make it happen with what we’ve got on hand. Also see who you can partner with. Some schools in the Bay area have actually gotten bags donated from the Golden State Warriors and the kids loved picking up their food in the Golden State Warrior bags. So there may be some folks in your community who have extra bags or boxes if you’re having trouble figuring out how to send out meals, then opt for as little packaging as possible.
Jen McNeil: So the flexibilities to serve both meals can be really great because you can avoid having individual packaging. So in the QA memos there is flexibility to now provide bulk meals. And that can mean that, especially if you’re serving multiple days of meals at one time, you can avoid having individually packaged servings, especially of fruits and vegetables, serving those in pints or have the broccoli, that can be a way to mitigate supply chain shortages related to packaging if you haven’t already. I highly recommend looking into serving fewer days per week, especially as we transition to summer and we transition to families going back to work. This has been a great way for a lot of schools that we work with to increase participation. So schools are serving maybe one or two days a week and maybe even offering meals where parents can pick them up after work if you’re using the parent meal pickup waiver.
Jen McNeil: So that can be a really great way to give your team a break to reduce exposure to Covid and to also keep participation high. And definitely it depends on your community, but just some options that we have available to us. When you do look into these things, you also can look at the fresh fruit and vegetable program. So with fresh fruit and vegetables and also looking at local foods and farm-to-school. We have some flexibilities for fresh fruit and vegetable program including the ability to send out meals for multiple days and in some states, depends on the state. There is a flexibility now for parents to pick up fresh fruit and vegetable program serving. So you can partner with local farms which can help mitigate supply chain issues and is super important right now because some of our farmers are having the opposite problem.
Jen McNeil: They have an abundance of produce that as schools we can really do a big service by taking on that additional produce. So if you’re interested in learning more about farm-to-school, I would encourage you to reach out to the national farm, to school network and potentially to any other local partners or seed affiliates that help with farm to school. Cause I know there’s a lot of folks doing great work in this area around the country. And then finally, one great way you can mitigate supply chain issues is to utilize what you have on hand. So this kind of seems like a no brainer, but I know a lot of folks at the beginning were kind of looking to individually packaged foods or shelf stable items that you may have items already in your freezer. So if you do have food on hand, try to use that up and that’s going to be helpful for food costs and also give you that ability to run through your existing inventory. And I know Maureen has a lot more to share about local and about food costs as well. So I’ll go ahead and pass it to her.
Maureen Pisanick: Thanks Jen. So you know, we’ve all been blown away. Supply chain demand competition with restaurants who have transitioned their programs for majority takeout really created a challenge for some of us that we did have disposable containers that we were utilizing that became out of stock. And so it really has become a problem of managing not only what’s in stock and what we have, but what options are affordable. I really believe, and profess that we need to think about a Plate-Cost Analysis. And historically it’s been pennies on the dollar, what we’ve invested in bulk cutlery and cheaper foam items, perhaps plastic items and lids. Now we’re looking at whole containment units not only for the current moment, but as we pivot to perhaps a blended learning environment with breakfast in the classroom or meals in the classroom, how are you going to get those items to the classrooms and to the bags and do so while maintaining a plate cost that you can budget to.
Maureen Pisanick: So we’ve seen prices go as high as 35 to 50 cents per unit for some of these type of contained grab-and-go Bistro Box, we call them in our little world here. But very, very realistic. You know, there’s a lot of considerations. And I believe having the numbers will help you be able to forecast and also be mindful. We know that groups like SNA are advocating right now other groups as well for added funding for our programs. Jen talked about that, having your numbers and knowing your data and knowing the impact of the cost of not only the foods that your programs are purchasing, but also the packaging supplies is really paramount in order for us to continue to stay ahead of the curve of where we’re going to end up in August and September.
Maureen Pisanick: And speaking of that, I know many of us are kind of like, well, we don’t have a plan. And that creates a lot of anxiety and worry. Not only for us but for our partners and distributors and suppliers. A couple of examples I’ve done here locally is we’ve had weekly calls with our distributor. Really asking what is out of stock? What do you hear the manufacturers saying? Can we look at a common group, perhaps a hundred items that we all know we use, talk about what the stocking levels will be so that when we’re working with schools to plan their menu, they’re not afraid that they’re going to put something on and then the moment they go to place that order, it’s going to be out of stock and create a ripple effect of changes that create panic and worry.
Maureen Pisanick: So really planning a menu that’s qualitative versus quantitative and really thinking about communication, communication, communication over communication, talking and really talking with all of those folks that really they can’t be successful in stocking the items we need to show up on our loading dock if we’re not giving them some idea of what we’re doing, even though we know it’s a little bit of a gray horizon out there. I have to say, to Jen’s point, I need to give a shout out for local because we have spent years in our region developing a sustainable farm-to-table harvest-of-the-month programs. And I don’t feel like we need to let those fly by the wayside just because we have to send things home, or to a classroom. It does not need to be individually wrapped and highly processed and we don’t need to throw out our missions of seeing fresh produce available to kids on a daily basis, on every tray.
Maureen Pisanick: I’m a mom. I know my daughter loves fresh produce more than she would ever eat canned fruits and vegetables. So we know it’s not nutritional if they swallow it, so part of this whole idea of continuing to embed the quality missions we’ve all started prior to pandemic in leading in how we can make them sustainable as we pivot in new ways. One example I’ll give you is we worked with a local dough provider. She actually, testimonial to one of our directors, said You guys are keeping the lights on for us. And my small business here by buying local dough which we ended up turning into with local cheese, local carrot sticks and local apple, a truly take-home local box experience.
Maureen Pisanick: Many of our clients sent home Google forms to inform the students of what the meal process was going to be and they highlighted that. So it became a nutrition education moment. And really a proud moment for us to continue to really amplify the message that nutrition is not just a meal or a stop along the way. It’s really embedding it into making the cafeteria an extension of the classroom. Now you’re going to say every meal opportunity, no matter what touchpoint it is, if it’s a take-home meal or a classroom meal, how are we educating to wholesomeness and what are we doing to get foods that kids will consume on a regular basis that’s healthy for them. So again, setting up some communications, pulse points, check points with your distributors, trying to think even generalities of a common list of items that you know are your top menu items or perhaps a descending dollar review of what you likely spent the majority of your money on. Every time we do this assessment, it’s usually like a top 20 to 40 items that you spend about 80% of your budget on when you’re having a cyclical menu that repeats and repeats. So there are some data tools that I would urge all of us to take a look at now ending with the beginning in mind.
Laura Thompson: That’s awesome. Thank you, Maureen. I know we’re hoping to spend some time on meals in the classroom and other possible feeding locations, but especially a focus on meals in the classroom since that is what folks seem to want to learn most about. Maureen, can you talk a little bit about some experiences you’ve had with meals in the classroom?
Maureen Pisanick: Absolutely. So whether this was serendipitous or just, it’s not a coincidence. It’s God’s way of remaining anonymous. But we started a from-scratch breakfast in the class program in one of our schools and it took a year, so I’m not even gonna sit here and say that it was an easy pivot. It took a year to research. But we partnered with grant funding and we were able to pull it off. And so what that means for us here as we help schools in Ohio, they’ve already put out a preliminary draft plan. There’s no etched-in-stone plan, but they are guiding schools with documentation that really are pushing towards a blended learning environment and non-congregate feeding in the classroom. So that is where we’re starting.
Maureen Pisanick: This is definitely where we are starting here, at least in Ohio. And for us, we learned a lot of lessons. That breakfast-in-the-classroom program, it was at Garfield High Schools. And one of the things I will say to all of you on the call to maybe incentivize you to think about this is it’s not the end of the world and it actually ended up in better dividends for the students. So again, we’re student-focused. We want what’s best for kids at this particular school. What we saw, not only did it increase participation for breakfast alone, they went from around 30 to 40% participation, all the way up to close to 90% participation by doing a breakfast-in-the-classroom program. We coupled that with analysis: it decreased tardiness, it increased attendance. I should have said this at the beginning with Jen.
Maureen Pisanick: I mean, you guys just all amaze me because as front-line emergency worker, essential workers. Students can’t learn if they’re hungry, right? So not only are they hungry, now they’re stressed and anxious about this crazy blended learning environment. So we have to double up on our efforts to provide safe, nutritious foods. And again, ones that they’ll eat. So looking at the things that they like. And in this instance, it wasn’t only the logistics of switching the program, it was the content of offering a hot offering with a cold offering that helped us amplify that participation. So I really do you know, think about all of those considerations. Will it be cold grab and go? Will you infuse some hot meals? What is it that your students want? Again, if we could have a year to plan for August, these are some of the highlights I would suggest.
Maureen Pisanick: We had meetings with the teachers, the support staff, union leaders, administrators, you name it because it’s not just one person. It takes a village and a community endorsement to really make in-the-classroom eating possible. For us we use Google forms for that, as well. I think that’s a big platform that’s free and many schools are used to using. We actually surveyed not only the teachers, but the custodial staff and the administrators. What are their apprehensions? What are they worried about? We gave them a set of options of what would they like to see on the menu. Of course we got responses like we don’t want cereal with milk cause they’ll spill it and we don’t want syrup because of messes. And so what it did was it really allowed us to look at all the pain points and the stressors and figure out proactive solutions.
Maureen Pisanick: And so what I mean by that is spills happen. We used that as a slide when we put together a cost totality card so that every custodian had something to wheel to the locations where our sites were so that if there was a spill, they had a spill kit which made it efficient to clean up. And we noticed after the year that really became a non-issue because we really didn’t have that many spills. But we proactively assessed where the pain point was, what the angst was about having mobile meals. And we tried to proactively provide a resource for a what-if situation that really just kind of puts the wet blanket on the fire and made everybody feel more comfortable serving the meals in the classroom. For us, you know, we used a central production, we had to purchase hot and cold Cambro units.
Maureen Pisanick: We leverage flex cards and these are all pieces of equipment if you’re interested, obviously order early because I think everybody’s going to be interested in these types of equipment that really made it the motion economy for helping our employees safely navigate the logistics of getting the meals where they needed to be. And of course we partnered with our administrators, we figured out how they were going to have the students come in safely, obviously. Now let’s ramp that up with the Covid six-feet social distancing markers, everything that they’re going to have for other aspects of the academic day as it would relate to, How do we navigate perhaps having mobile units poised in areas that will make efficient flows through the line and eating in the classroom happen. I will tell you that with that being said, one of the best practice examples I would encourage all of you to consider in this virtual world, I know many of us are missing the hugs.
Maureen Pisanick: I’m a hugger. I really do miss the personal touch of these, but using and leveraging videos and video training. So one of the things we did in this model that I think would be wonderful for strategy for meals in the classroom is to video a “How to” like, “How to navigate and walk through the process,” not only so that teachers can use it to educate the students, but that everybody understands the process. Because you’re going to have substitute teachers, you’re going to have substitute workers, you’re going to have kids that need reinforcement, to train, train and train again. And I really feel like the short video clips and showing cute wayfinding really made it very efficient and they were really a quick study on how to do it the right way. And teachers loved it.
Maureen Pisanick: We were able to be amplifying some nutrition messaging within that video. We partnered with an already existing behavioral management strategy. They call Paws, their Bulldogs in that district. And each letter stood for an acronym to be positive. You know, to be attentive and the thing that we all need to know to be a cohesive message to kids in order to navigate a new way of doing meal service. And don’t reinvent the wheel. You can order early for these things, but contact Jen or I or any of us. We’ve put these programs in place and you don’t have to do all the homework yourself. Just reach out to those of us who would want to obviously empower you with that information as well. Jen, go ahead. You have some new ideas to hear.
Jen McNeil: Operating meals in classroom is definitely one of the solutions that has been identified for safely serving students during school year 20-21. We don’t necessarily know if this is going to happen. It’s going to vary by school, by the nature of the pandemic and what happens with Covid. There are a few action items that we’ll cover on the next slide. And as you heard from Maureen, successful meals-in-the-classroom programs are already happening across the country and there’s actually other countries that do this regularly. Japan has a very highly developed meals-in-the-classrooms system for their national school meal program. So it’s definitely possible. It’s also definitely a lot of work. So don’t do this in a silo. If you do have to set up a meal-in-the-classroom program, then you’re gonna want to lean in to the table with your administrators and your principals or teachers or board members and superintendents and make sure they know this is not something that nutrition services can pull off on their own.
Jen McNeil: It’s going to have to have a big team involved to get this started. Especially for those of you with multiple feeding locations.
Laura Thompson: Jen, can you talk a little bit about the to-do list here?
Jen McNeil: Yeah, definitely. Maureen and I put this together as Tan action list. here’s a few things to consider, steps that you could take now to start thinking through, even if it’s just planning steps. So number one, communicate with everyone that, you communicate with, definitely your administrators and your staff so that you can start developing a plan and think about what that might look like for next year. Number two, I think this is really important regardless of the meal system, but especially for meals in the classroom, consider applying for community eligibility or provision two. If you’re even close to being eligible for one of those provisions, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the numbers and see how that might work for your district.
Jen McNeil: There is a financial impact of those programs and there’s online calculators that can help with that and I can try to put some of those into the chat box, but in most states I think the application deadline is still June 30th. That community eligibility provision, the application deadlines are now pushed back to August. That’s something that you could do. Those programs provide you with the ability to do universal free meals. And it can be really, really good for me also in the classroom and to help eliminate PPL charges. And with community eligibility, you don’t have to collect any names. You can just have a tally count. So that would be obviously a lot easier for compliance. And paperwork and record keeping, if you have teachers taking meal counts.
Jen McNeil: Maureen mentioned a lot of great ideas on equipment and just think about those right now. If you’re leaning towards the meals-in-the-classroom program and maybe start thinking about what you might need to order and what types of things, at least like some insulated from milk some carts and trolleys for moving meals around campus. These are just a few ideas to get you started. I’ll pass it over to Maureen if she has anything else to add on menus or training.
Maureen Pisanick: Sure. First of all, what I love about our profession is we’re not like competitive restaurants and we have no secret sauce recipes we’re not willing to share. So to Jen’s point, I will send you our wayfinding video. I can send you information about the case presentation for that particular breakfast-in-the-classroom model. We do have a lot of information about the specific equipment we use for that particular process. And we get no money back for that. So we would be happy to share with you the exact models to really cut down and decrease the homework time you would have that we had in planning and implementing that program. For me the goal certainly would be to end with the beginning in mind and get your timeline at least on the books pretty soon, right?
Maureen Pisanick: So leaning into that conversation as schools are talking about how are they going to at least start a projected plan. I think Jen will cover this, but we all always know in food service you don’t have a plan if you don’t have a plan A, B, C, D, sometimes the whole length of the alphabet. And I know we know that, but we have to develop some strategies. I also want to say this would be a really good time to point out updating your job descriptions for your employees. All of us, many of us have duties as assigned. But duties as assigned have really changed, right? And so providing some clarity and amplifying opportunities. We always call it our back-to-school bootcamp. What are you doing with your training protocols? Can you do many training modules that would help with offer-versus-serve, food safety, time in lieu of temperature, other aspects of documentation that might be new obviously in this new delivery model that would, would need to be like a start from scratch for some of your employees.
Maureen Pisanick: Also, I keep pushing the idea of the videos, but we also know that we have to maintain a pretty aggressive approach to having substitute workers on hand if and when, God forbid anything happens and we have to quarantine or there’s an outbreak in any of our kitchens. So being able to have ready turn-key training resources to speak to this new flow of food and doing so in a way that really pilots and implements new training procedures is something we should all be thinking about right now. I would be remiss if I didn’t say, I think it’s also important to, while you’re having these critical conversations, not to be afraid to address things like memorandums of understanding with your unionized workforce. And the reason I say that is because oftentimes it just takes proactive communication and an understanding prior to the start of a new program launch so that we don’t have to reinvent those communications and really be reactive instead of proactive.
Maureen Pisanick: Some of your employees’ concerns that might arise given some of the new to-do lists that you would have for them. And the last thing I will say is we have learned there are going to be some new daily checklists and maybe updated checklists that we have already envisioned as successful ways to inform our schools of what expectations are in terms of daily operating procedures that will need to be updated with Covid highlights. So certainly those would be wonderful tools to help not only navigate the new approach but also then in the world of a new health inspection would be a great way to show how you’ve proactively implemented standard operating changes that really point to touch points that would keep food safe, staff safe students safe, your meals safe. So those are definitely things to consider now and again with the beginning of mind.
Laura Thompson: Thank you for that Maureen. Now we want to talk about a couple of the possible feeding locations. Jen, if you could start talking about this for a little bit.
Jen McNeil: Sure. For feeding locations, we mentioned the meals in the classroom. There’s also some other things that you might consider. When you brought all your plans to the table and you’re looking at what’s going to happen in your specific school or district or program next year, you could also consider serving meals outdoors. That’s something that has been very successful as sort of the normal practice in Southern California and other areas of the country that have great weather. But there definitely would be different considerations for folks who have more inclement weather concerns. But outdoor meals could be an option to prevent the big gathering of crowds or even meals service locations into several locations around campus rather than one. Cafeteria. We’ve also been hearing, again, none of us know what’s going to happen next year, but we have also been hearing about the possibility that sometimes some schools may opt to have students attending school every other day, in which case we may be asked to send home meals for the next day to help with providing nutrients to those students who are not there at school and they can have a meal on the day that they’re home.
Jen McNeil: That’s just speculation at this point, but it would definitely be a new system to deal build. I’m sure that there’s other options that could be considered in your planning for next year that none of us have thought of yet. I mean, how many of us thought that we would ever set up drive-through meal services? But you guys did it. So the truth is, again, none of us really know what next year is going to look like. We can plan ahead, but all of our plans need to be flexible. We should communicate this uncertainty to our teams and to our administrators and work together to create lots of different options and contingency plans. I know one of the university professors has 41 different plans for what fall is going to look like for the college students on his campus and one of the nutrition directors, he’s on plan number 26 for what next year and this summer is going to look like.
Jen McNeil: Just be flexible and also know that we’re going to need more flexibility from USDA. I the questions and in the chat box, you folks have been asking about the meal pattern waiver and that’s been getting extended on a month-by-month basis right now and there’s really no indication that it’s going to be extended for like three months at a time. It looks like meal pattern because it’s the bedrock of our program. It looks like it’s something that’s going to just keep getting extended as long as we need it, but not really far in the future. If we have to send meals home for every other day, we’re likely going to need more flexibility and waivers for those types of services into the fall. And someone else mentioned about how do you do meals in a classroom if you only have 12% eligible free and reduced rate.
Jen McNeil: That’s a really important question and we’re probably going to need flexibility on our reporting and record keeping requirements and hopefully USDA will provide that flexibility. I think it’s also really important that if we need these flexibilities, we reach out to our advocacy groups and work with them to advocate with USDA for these changes. No Kid Hungry did a great request to USDA regarding extending the waivers into the summer. And there’s other groups like FRAC, SNA, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that are also doing lots of advocacy groups in our profession.
Maureen Pisanick: And I would add, I think the idea here is we are the experts in foodservice, right? And so while administrators or superintendents or board of educations are having these community talk forums, they’re inviting parents in to get their opinions. They’re having obviously curriculum directors and specialists help guide talks about how to really be successful in a blended or virtual or alternative school model. They’re looking us. And so I love what you said about we don’t know what the answer is really going to be, but if we have options, it’s almost like the whole concept of smarter lunchroom, right? We talk about offering choices to kids so they can swallow a vegetable and at least the half cup portion to claim a meal. Having options for your administrators that say these are the ways we want to guide you in the way we see the best, most efficient, healthy way to deliver meals are.
Maureen Pisanick: But here are options and here are fallback plans and contingency plans. I think coming to the table, leaning into the conversation and being the expert and owning the success of your department is something we all need to be proactive and think about now. I love the idea that you’re not alone in it. And we’re definitely looking to some supports from all of the agencies Jen mentioned along with each other. We just have to be able to be present for one another and continue to work together for solutions.
Laura Thompson: Thank you for that. I know we want to leave a few minutes left for some Q&A, so we have a couple more sections to get through here. But Jen, could you talk a little bit about how to plan a menu when things are up in the air right now. What are some of your recommendations?
Jen McNeil: Yeah, definitely. And we’ve had some great questions coming in about, do we offer choices that we do meals in the classroom and, and how do we navigate a lot of these situations? I just want everyone to know that every school district is different. And if you’ve been in one district, you’ve been in one district; everyone has their own unique culture. And so we get closer to fall, we definitely want to start to look at menu planning, but know that your menus are going to look different depending on the different situations going on in your district and maybe even from school to school. I’m sure for most of us it’s actually really bizarre not to have our menu plan yet for fall. Because by this time of year, most of us have already gotten those into our systems and sending them out to our staff and getting orders in.
Jen McNeil: Right now a lot of us are just trying to get through next week and making sure we have product in our kitchens, but when you do have the bandwidth, it is important to look at planning some sort of menu for fall and some things to take into consideration might be looking at a shorter cycle. Perhaps if you usually have a four week cycle menu, maybe cutting that down to two weeks, and having lots of alternative choices. So have some clearly identified items that your staff can substitute if something doesn’t come in. I would definitely encourage folks to have as backup items, so if you don’t get this and serve that, and I do that normally, but I think it’s more important than ever with all supply chain issues.
Jen McNeil: Definitely evaluate how closely we have to follow the meal and that’s going to change depending on if our meal pattern waiver is extended or if there’s any other flexibilities regarding offer-versus-serve, which can be challenging in the classroom. In the classroom you can definitely to offer-versus-serve, but it is tricky to train teachers and to get them on board with doing that exactly, perfect, audit-proof. Offer-versus-serve can be a little bit difficult in the classroom from my experience. I definitely want to encourage everyone to look at how you can start incorporating more scratch-cooking, speed-scratch, whole ingredients into your menus and returning to making food from scratch. Or even maybe starting this for the first time because if you’ve previously relied on packages, packaged foods or if you’ve started doing that more because of all the reasons why a lot of us have transitioned to individually packaged items during the crisis. It does seem like folks who are offering whole ingredients and cooking and scratch right now are having an easier time getting food. So a lot of our packaged foods, especially the individually wrapped items, we’re having more difficulty getting those than they are getting things like bags of rice and pasta and things like sauces. It may be a good time to get back to basics on your menus and have some really nice high-quality meals on your fall menus.
Maureen Pisanick: Some takeaways I’ll just echo with Jen is if you are beginning with a plate cost analysis and some budget, which we talked a little bit earlier, we all know that convenience and individual packed items are more expensive than some of these scratch items, too. So if you’re finding your pain points are and maintaining some sort of a budget, given all of this, it definitely is a point to ponder, to think about what you can do and where you can save money by creating some things versus buying them all the way ready and individually wrapped. A couple of my really key takeaways for empowering the menu is again, thinking of not only Plans A, B, C, D, but food is such a social, emotional touchpoint. And one of the things that I believe us in this nutrition field in schools, we are a part of what is going to become, how do we educate the whole child.
Maureen Pisanick: Kids can’t learn when they’re hungry. So in planning many considerations I would look to information I can get from our students. What do they want? What are they saying? We’ve had emotional testimonials coming back. Like it was so nice to get my favorite school lunch even though we can’t be in the classroom anymore. It was awesome to see parents sending us pictures of those pizza kits going, Hey, that was a really cool idea. We talked about the local food and how it’s different. So while parents are going to have to navigate this new normal and what could potentially be a blended learning, how do we continue to support the whole child and really looking at nutrition as one part of the education and academics package that we’re all creating in a new landscape.
Maureen Pisanick: I said the plate-cost analysis, we talk about this a lot in our planning. Part of menu planning is considering how you’re going to staff that menu. So looking at, are you assembling foods? Are you creating foods that are gonna really have to do a lot with how you’re going to staff your kitchens. And I think in the next couple of slides we’ll talk a lot about some ideas, but we were really know meals per labor hour. It has always been a key performance indicator that we’ve asked our schools to consider. In times of normal delivery, 18 to 24 meals per hour, it was great. Now we’ve seen programs on average really probably more between 32 to 45 meals per labor hour. And I was floored probably about a half hour before this, I got a report back from one of our schools that they’re at 61 meals per labor hour. So it’s not always about getting the kids to eat it and like it, but it’s also not always about just the budget. It’s about the burnout, right? I start looking at those menus going, wow, that is a hard long-term plan to be consistently, punching out those high numbers and really evaluating your menu from a staffing model, from a budgetary model. And certainly from a whole child perspective. I’m with Jen, I’m all about trying to continue on the local and more of the scratch-made foods as well.
Laura Thompson: Wonderful. Thank you both. All right, we have another poll here. So let’s launch this. We’d love to get your thoughts on, Has your staff expressed concern over coming back in the fall? Our last section that we’re going to talk about for a couple minutes before opening up to some questions from you is going to be about service. So we’d love to hear some of your thoughts on this. We’re starting to get some results coming in now. We’ll leave this up for a few more seconds. So get in your votes. Let’s share these results. Has your staff expressed concern over coming back in the fall? It looks like 69% have said yes. So Jen and Maureen, if you could talk to this for a little bit as far as how they might be able to consider this for caring for their staff during this time.
Jen McNeil: Yeah, so I would definitely encourage folks to make sure you have a really good safety plan in place. We have some great resources. I know someone was asking in the chat about safety resources and information for employees reporting to work. There’s some really nice resources in a guide, a manual that we together called the school food safety precautions manual that we put together with the center for Ecoliteracy and a group of medical doctors. It’s really long but has a lot of information and about two pages of resources and references. So I think having a really clear safety plan is very important and I encourage you to check that out. Beyond that with staffing, I guess the main thing I want to mention here is that if you’re looking at program losses, which most of us are for this period from March through June where we’ve had lower participation in most cases and lower revenue and higher costs. I really encourage you to work with your district and your administrators to try to avoid cutting any staff from the nutrition department for two reasons. Number one, it is likely that financial losses that our programs have incurred during March through June will be made up somehow, at least in a portion of those losses will probably be made up. There is legislation in Washington DC right now with the Heroes Act and the Feed the Children Act. So those pieces of legislation are super important, and if they pass, that would give us a big reprieve on our budgets and will hopefully avoid any shortfalls that may have resulted in budget cuts. I also mention this because we really have no idea what our staffing needs are going to be for the fall. So if your school district, like most school districts, is looking at budget cuts, I would try to avoid any budget cuts in the nutrition department, especially amongst staff because we really have no idea what is going to happen with our labor in the fall. You could need to cook more foods from scratch because there’s a limited supply of processed items. You could need to have staff going to each classroom, which is more labor intensive.
Jen McNeil: You might need to set up more points of service, and you might have higher participation because there’s more students qualify for free and reduced meals. And if you do universal feeding or meals in the classroom, you have more of a captive audience and it’s more likely that you’ll have higher participation. So for these reasons, I urge you to advocate for your team to make sure they’re aware of safety precautions and also make sure that your district knows that, for at least the time being, please avoid budget cuts in the child nutrition department and give us some time to catch up and see what’s actually happening before we make any permanent decisions.
Maureen Pisanick: Yeah, I really love all of that. For me, making sure your employees feel safe to be at work and making sure that you’re their cheerleader, their advocate. Also thinking about new ways to help your labor teams be successful. We’ve found a lot, the silver lining to this pandemic cloud, is many of our schools are saying, Oh my goodness, we have a prep team and then a serving team. And by prepping things the day before perhaps, as far out as they can, they’ve been two thirds prepped for the serving day. So it’s made their efficiencies improve. Also having an assembly crew and then a delivery crew to help your staff feel, if you have staff that come back and say, No, we are really nervous about having to be in that zone where we’re in the high risk category, where elderly or older might have some preexisting conditions that really are making us at risk, allowing them to still feel successful and perhaps play a larger role in the back of the house.
Maureen Pisanick: But really designing some workflow, time-motion economy. One best example that I’ll use, and I know we’re running short on time, but one of our schools has two people in each group. They have somebody that works on the main entrees for breakfast and the sides for breakfast. Two people in a group that worked for the main lunch and the side group. Obviously by the size of your district and the scaling, you’ll have to figure that part out. But what I love is A, their bags are color coded. So when they go to assemble it means something to the staff. And then it’s also coached to the students. So they have a color coding system on how to make assembly and delivery efficient and pretty fail safe in terms of thinking ahead. So really trying to think of ways to help your staff feel successful, supported, and teaching them the new normal is going to be important. Training is going to be paramount. I think as we look at considering what labor is going to look like in an evolving role for next year is really assuring some of their anxieties by trying to give them some insights to what’s coming up.
Laura Thompson: Thank you. All right. We have a question that came in that actually it looks like it’s going to apply to the next slide. So hopefully Jen and Maureen, you can speak to this, but the question is what might be a way to prepare for the new health inspector inspection with respect to CDC or governing authority?
Maureen Pisanick: Yeah, I love this slide. Jen. You did this. It’s awesome.
Jen McNeil: Yeah. So this is one of the examples from our school food service safety precautions manual, which you can access on our website LunchAssist.org. This is just one example. There’s so many different ways that you can practice social distancing in the kitchen, and protect high-risk staff by keeping them in the back of house, while having separate teams so that, if someone from that production team gets sick, it doesn’t knock out your front-of-house staff. This can also be a really nice thing to think through, if you have a limited number of folks who hold food handlers or serve-safe certification, you can use those folks in the production team and then keep any volunteers or new staff or folks who might be helping out from other positions in your district. Those folks can do front-of-house activities that don’t require as much specialized training as we do when we work in the kitchen.
Maureen Pisanick: Yeah, and I love this too because it’s easy to read, right? So when we talk about not reinventing the wheel, looking at Jen’s website, our website, there are a lot of free downloadable pieces that you can laminate, you can put up hanging up in your production front of the house, back of the house, also put into learning guides. I’m also gonna suggest, Canva is one free one, but there are many . . . pictures speak a thousand words and sometimes putting together like a very wordy document on how to train somebody is not going to be the efficient way to get your staff trained and up and ready to go, your substitute workers going. We all are in a world where we Google something and do a quick YouTube video on how to do it.
Maureen Pisanick: The Institute of Child Nutrition has a ton of videos of how to prepare food safely. I know our resources on our website; Jen has many as well. Everybody is used to doing that from even a, How to dig your own in-ground pool, which is currently in my search bar as we look towards the summer, with social distancing. But I think it’s a really good user-friendly way to refresh your training documents and really make your staff feel like they have something to reference on a daily basis. If you’re physically not able to be in all of your sites obviously all the time to kind of reinforce your education and training. So absolutely spot on.
Laura Thompson: Thank you so much for that. We apologize because we know that there are dozens more questions that have come through, we have not been able to get to, but we will be able to follow up and answer those as best we can. Jen and Maureen, thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate If you have any questions for them, go to their websites. They have contact information there. Both of them have fantastic information and resources on their websites. Thank you again, both so much for joining us today and for offering the expertise and the insights and the stories that you’ve had.
Maureen Pisanick: Thank you, Laura. Thank you everybody. Be well. Okay.
Laura Thompson: Thank you. Have a great day. Thanks. Take care.