After 22 years working in school foodservice and nutrition, I decided to start a consulting company in 2002. I had been conducting customer service training in school districts nationwide, designing dining rooms in my district and generally having a blast for 22 years when I asked myself, “What next?” A friend and colleague gave me some of the best career advice ever when he said, “Do what you love!” Since then, my company has been doing just that. What is it that I love?
Creating opportunities to inspire and challenge others toward excellence in child nutrition.
Yep, that’s it in a nutshell.
As a consultant for 10+ years, I worked with many districts, both large and small. It’s easy to think that a district of over 600,000 students could not possibly have the same problems as a district of under a thousand. The truth is, everyone in school foodservice struggles with efficiency. This common thread became readily apparent to me as I began conducting a lot of nutrient analysis for schools in preparation for CRE/SMI reviews.
As part of the process, each school district would provide their spec sheets to me and I was baffled at how many different outdated specs there were for the same product. There was no distribution or sharing mechanism that would allow districts to have access to the most current spec sheets. Most manufacturers distributed them infrequently and very little was available online, if at all. Over and over again, the same products were used by my various customers. I recreated the same information repeatedly, requiring elaborate tracking systems for each district. Keeping it all straight for multiple districts took more time than the actual data entry. There was just no easy way to do it and it was just frustratingly time consuming.
I kept thinking back to a class assignment back in college that had a profound impact on me. It was an efficiency project where a team member recorded every move I made to bake a cake. The project was to determine how many steps could be saved if this process was done efficiently. This lesson has stuck with me over the years and everything I look at is through this lens. So it was no surprise I began looking for ways to reduce steps in my school foodservice and nutrition consulting practice.
Finding efficiencies became critical as my practice grew. I tried elaborate spreadsheets and using coding systems in the data. I repeatedly remarked “if only the software did this, it would be so much better!” My husband began asking me why didn’t I just have software written that I could use that would work for me. I thought he was a bit crazy! After all, what did I know about writing software?
Fast forward again to 2011: the year the new regulations under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act were made law. It was plainly evident that now every single school district in the US would need to do nutrient analysis of their menus. This would more than double the number of school districts that were currently doing it. Since nutrient analysis is the work of trained professional nutritionists and registered dieticians, I could see that the need for consultants was likely going to multiply. My consulting practice was maxed out and I was working 12 hour days to keep up. I considered hiring additional consultants but there was no way to even collaborate using the existing desktop software. The existing processes and software were difficult to use, cumbersome and time consuming. Once again I thought about my college efficiency project and knew there had to be a way for districts to collaborate more and gain efficiency! New ideas and solutions to a tough set of problems were desperately needed.
I began envisioning a product and service that would…
- Be so easy to use I could teach a 12-year-old to write a compliant menu
- Not require a degree in nutrition to do nutrient analysis
- Enable data sharing so that districts could work together and reduce the workload
- Involve manufacturers to provide product data for mutual benefit
- Organize and clean up all of the paper tracking
- Make preparation for Administrative Reviews a snap
- Provide access to experienced professionals to help
- Put the fun back in the menu planning process
And with that, Health-e Meal Planner software came to be.
Health-e Meal Planner was born from a consultant’s heart to help others, a desire to leverage the limited resources available to schools and gain efficiency. Now groups of school districts and the school foodservice nutrition directors can work together and information can be easily shared. Consultants, Food Service Management Companies, Caterers and others can leverage this in their own businesses as they work with multiple school districts. Products and recipes can be set up once and shared. Menu templates can be created that can be used over and over again. What previously took about 200 hours to set up a single new customer’s data, can now be done in a matter of days utilizing manufacturer provided specs, standardized recipes, and menu templates. By working in a cloud environment, many staff members can collaborate and use the same data in real time. This efficiency leads to a dramatic time savings resulting in greater capacity to grow their businesses. One customer says she has to have uniformity, and Health-e Pro software allows for instant changes across all schools in a district, with one click of a button from any device.