We sat down with Founder and President of Health-e Pro, Meg Chesley, to discuss some of her time as a Food Service Director. What helps create an environment where kids wants to eat their school lunch? Our conversation covered the four elements she found are essential in successful School Nutrition programs: food that’s fresh, fun, fast, and familiar. If you’re looking for some new or interesting ideas for your School Lunch program, this Q&A is for you:

How does your motto of “Fresh. Fun. Fast. Familiar.” apply to kids with school lunch?

The decision for kids to decide on a place to eat doesn’t only apply to schools, but anytime they’re old enough to have some input on where they eat: what compels them? What are the elements that cause them to make those decisions? If you apply those elements to schools, what does it look like?

Fresh, fun, fast, and familiar are the ones we came up with for what impacts food choices. Most people don’t say, “I can’t wait to eat out of a vending machine” unless their motive is fast. You’ll go to a vending machine if fast is the only important thing to you in that moment.

Fresh may override fast when given the choice between the two. For example, at the airport, I have seen a California Pizza Kitchen serve grab-and-go items. You trust CPK to be fresh, and it’s also familiar because you’ve been to CPK before. 

The fun factor is more important for kids than it is for adults. When I started doing school lunchroom design (Editor’s Note: we’ll be doing a more in-depth post on this soon, so keep your eyes peeled on our blog!), the objective was to make the cafeteria a fun place to go. We didn’t even change the food. But we completely changed the environment. In one school, we did a 50’s diner and changed a bit of the packaging–like adding in red baskets like you see in a diner–but we kept the food the same. We went from 2 kids a day to 200 literally overnight. The biggest change was perception: the cafeteria became a fun place where kids wanted to be. We had a jukebox going and the kids were dancing; school lunch became a cool time and they loved that.

How else did “familiar” play into your work in School Nutrition?

When I worked in the Corona-Norco (California) Unified School District, I worked with Pizza Hut to become the only licensed commissary in a school environment worldwide. We wanted pizza made fresh just like the store, and we knew that, because of Pizza Hut’s familiarity with the students, it would work well. Especially at that time, everyone knew Pizza Hut; it was very familiar. We took our central kitchen and, with the cooperation from Pizza Hut, we created a commissary. At one point, we were doing well over 1,000 14” pizzas a day out of there. We basically did a quick scratch. We used raw dough, put it in the pizza pans night before, let them rise overnight, and built the pizzas in the morning. Of all the things that I’ve done that were creative and uniquely done, that’s the one I’m most proud of.

We delivered pizzas to every one of our schools every two hours; that was required by Pizza Hut. We delivered to all of our schools a couple times a day throughout that lunch period. We built elaborate time schedules to prepare and deliver the pizzas. It was well thought-out. We started with a couple schools, with a plan to add a certain number of schools to each week; we were doubling and tripling meal counts overnight, literally.

That’s an example of both fresh and familiar, combined with fast. Fast is important in school settings because of the limited amount of time for lunch. What we learned is that you could combine both fast and fresh, where they’re often seen as mutually exclusive. But you’ll see that Chipotle has merged those two elements well, and we did that in school lunch settings, too.

Tune in next time to see how lunchroom design plays into all of this!

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