Celebrate School Nutrition (New Whitepaper with 13 FREE Seasonal Promotional Graphics!)

There are many responsibilities on the plate of a school nutrition or food services director. One task that often gets put on the back burner due to budget and time constraints is program promotion. There are many opportunities throughout the year to do something fun to increase participation. It’s beneficial to take advantage of holidays or upcoming events that students are excited about and applying them to your program so your students will also be excited about school meals.

Some examples of seasonal lunchroom promotions include:

  • Decorating your lunchline for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, and more!
  • Serving tailgate-themed food like hot dogs and hamburgers for the school’s homecoming game
  • Posting on social media photos of students enjoying milk on World School Milk Day (September 26th).

These are just a few of the many creative promotions you can plan around holidays or events to spice up your lunchroom and engage students. While planning these kinds of promotions may seem intimidating, Meals Plus provides you with all the tools you need to make it simple. You can learn more about seasonal promotions in our newest white paper, Celebrate School Nutrition: How to Promote Your Program Throughout the Year.

This white paper includes helpful information and ideas on planning seasonal promotions through menu planning, decorations, and social media. Also included are 13 FREE downloadable, printable graphics for just about every occasion! Whether you want to welcome students back to healthy eating at the beginning of the year or encourage nutritious meals around Thanksgiving, we have a graphic for you to print and hang in your lunchroom or use to digitally promote your program!

Click here to download the white paper now and start celebrating school nutrition in your lunchroom!

10 Steps to Start the Year Strong (Including a FREE Printable Back-to-School Checklist)

Summer is quickly coming to a close. Soon a rush of hungry students will be in your line waiting for a nutritious and delicious meal in a timely manner. Are you ready? The back-to-school season can be stressful and exciting. At Meals Plus we want to make it as easy as possible for you to get your lunchline moving again! The following tips are a guideline for starting the year off right. We have even provided a FREE printable checklist for your convenience.

1.  Make sure your point of sale and all hardware are up and running.

It is highly recommended that you turn your machines on and ensure they’re running two weeks prior to starting service. By getting a jump start on this you can arrange necessary repairs or replacements if needed. Also be sure to verify all of your external hardware is in shape. Test printers, keypads, scanners, etc. to ensure no upgrades need to be made before the first day of school.

2.  Make sure your Meals Plus software is ready to go.

There are a few simple steps for getting your system set up for the new year. In Meals Plus, verify your current fiscal year. Verify ‘Database Version’ and ‘Auto Update’ status in Control File. Review User Group and User Setup where you can add new cashiers and assign sites and items as needed.

3.  Add new students and delete non-current students.

Import students for the new fiscal year by manually importing a student file or set up Auto Transfer Settings for automatic nightly imports. If your system integrates with PowerShools, VendorLink, or Aeries, click the ‘Enable PowerSchool/VendorLink/Aeries Integration’ box under System Management > Administration > Auto Transfer Settings > PowerSchool/ VendorLink /Aeries tab. If we host your database, contact Meals Plus Support and use nightly imports. To delete students who have graduated or transferred districts, run ‘Delete Non-Current Students’ at least 90 days AFTER the beginning of the school year to remove old student accounts. After doing this you will want to Archive POS History for previous fiscal years.

4.  Verify Free & Reduced Eligibility and Manage Applications.

Start by downloading income brackets for the new fiscal year. Then, set the ‘Meal Benefit Expiration Date’, the ‘New App/Modifier App’, and the ‘Student Transfer from EP or Pov. 2 Site’ grace periods for all sites. Review and modify ‘Letter Setup’ and ‘Language Setup’ as needed and set up the ‘Verification Configuration’ screen. Finally, run the ‘Direct Certification/Exempt’ utility after a new student import to identify direct certified students.

5.  Update Inventory.

Make sure your inventory is up-to-date by importing or creating new items, reviewing packaging, updating current bid prices, and updating vendor information as needed. Review and update Account Categories and Groups as needed.

6.  Update employee data and set up time clock.

Have you had any new hires or employees leave your district? Start updating employee data by setting up a new School Calendar for the new school year. Review and edit as needed your Leave Setup, Job Setup, Certification Class Setup, and Request Setup. Add new employees and review and edit current employee data as needed.

7.  Update Menus.

Are you spicing things up this year with some new recipes? After creating a new School Calendar for the new year, review and update ingredients, recipes, reimbursable meals, and cycle menus. Calculate costs of ingredients when used in recipes and usage of inventory items by going to Inventory > Administration > Item Maintenance > Menu Costing.

8.  Make sure K12PaymentCenter and Lunch Application are set up.

If you use K12PaymentCenter for online payments you will want to verify that the Meals Plus service is running. Check the EMS log for errors and the Payment Reports for ‘unapplied payments’. If you use LunchApplication.com be sure to review and edit ‘District Info’, add and edit ‘Users’, and review and edit ‘Household Letter Setup’ as needed. If you disabled Lunch Application for the summer, contact Meals Plus Support to enable LAP.

9.  Plan program promotions for the year.

With all the things Nutrition Directors must worry about throughout the year, promotions often get put on the back burner. Promoting your program is essential to increase participation. Starting now and looking ahead to the rest of the year is a great way to get a jump on promoting your program. To learn more about promoting your school nutrition program, request to download the whitepapers, 101 Ways to Increase Participation and The 5 P’s of Promoting Your School Meal Program.

10.  Contact Meals Plus Support if you need help!

At Meals Plus we understand that the beginning of the school year can be hectic. We would like to help make it as easy as possible. Login to the Meals Plus Support site to access documents, webinars, and videos to guide you. We are also always available to help Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 7:00 pm. Just give us a call at 800-541-8999 and you will speak to a real person who understands your issues and is excited to help work through it.

Here at Meals Plus, we are so excited to start a new school year with you! For your convenience, we have provided a FREE printable Back-to-School Checklist to help you start the year strong! If you’re looking to start the year with a new cafeteria management system, request a free demo now and discover why thousands of school districts trust Meals Plus to keep their lunchlines moving!

The Ultimate Guide to ANC 2018

It’s our favorite time of year at Meals Plus! The School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference 2018 is just around the corner. From July 9-12 industry professionals from all over the country will head to the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas for four days of sharing bright ideas, learning best practices, and illuminating a bold vision for K12 school food service! Whether it’s your first time, or you’re a dedicated annual attendee, we have everything you need to know to get ready.

Getting Started

First thing’s first—the Opening Session. This year, co-anchor of CBS This Morning, Gayle King will be starting things off! She will be bringing refreshing authenticity along with her dogged persistence to her assignments. After her keynote speech, she will be signing copies of her book, Note to Self: Inspiring Words from Inspiring People. She isn’t the only star studded speaker. On Thursday Chef Jeff Henderson will be sharing his journey from the streets to the stove, along with some real-life strategies to help you achieve your dreams. After his session, he will also be signing copies of his books. Check out SNA’s website for more information on the general sessions.

Gaining Bright Ideas

Whether you’re looking to develop new skills or enhance existing knowledge, you can customize a schedule of educational sessions just for your needs! There will be a Culinary Skills Lab, sessions on promoting your program, and information on navigating the procurement puzzle. You can view all education session here as well as download a tracking tool that provides an easy way to keep up with your training hours during the conference.

Exploring the Exhibit Hall

The most exciting part of ANC for us at Meals Plus is the Exhibit Hall! This year there will be 880 booths showcasing culinary trends in food, beverage, supply, equipment, and service solutions. No matter what you’re looking for to grow your program, you can find it in the miles of aisles! While you’re there, be sure to stop to learn about how we can help turn your cafeteria into the Smartest Lunchroom. For digital menu solutions, visit School Nutrition and Fitness at book #1659. To learn more about our integrated cafeteria management solutions visit Meals Plus at booth #1065! Whether you’re a customer or not, if you are looking for new ways to improve your program, we’d love to chat with you!

Making Connections through Special Events

The fun doesn’t stop once you leave the educational sessions or the exhibit hall. There are even more events that offer a little something for everyone! If you’re a first-time attendee, you should definitely go to the First-Timers Session to guide you in the right direction before you get started. This year is all about networking, so be sure to attend the New Connections Reception on Monday. Once you’ve gained all of these new ideas and connections, celebrate at the closing event, Michael Jackson ONE by Cirque du Soleil, an electrifying fusion of acrobatics and dance in honor of the King of Pop. Learn more about all of the special events offered at ANC here.

Take on ANC from your Smartphone!

ANC just went mobile! You can download SNA’s 2018 ANC mobile app to stay connected while on site. You can build your own agenda, evaluate education sessions, navigate the conference center, message other attendees and join discussion groups, and receive notifications on schedule changes and program alerts. The app can be downloaded on iTunes or Google Play.

Experiencing Las Vegas Outside of the Conference Doors

Even though our first priority at ANC is to learn and network, it’s also an exciting opportunity to experience Sin City! Check out this list for some of the Best Things to Do in Las Vegas. You may also want to check out SNA’s list of inexpensive suggestions for exploring Vegas.

We are so excited to see you in Vegas! We hope you gain valuable information to step up your lunch program. Don’t forget to stop by booth #1065 to visit Meals Plus and booth #1659 to visit School Nutrition and Fitness in the exhibit hall July 10-12. Learn more information about ANC 2018 here.

Meals Plus Help Desk Statistics: May 2018

Meals Plus continues to provide top-notch customer service – and fast!

Each month, Meals Plus generates random surveys after technical support calls to ensure our customers have the best support experience possible.

Here are the results of May 2018’s surveys, and some highlights from the month:

  • The average time to answer a support call was only 8 seconds.
  • The average talk time with a customer was only 11 minutes and 37 seconds.

Thank you to the Meals Plus Team for their hard work and providing the best customer support in K-12 cafeteria software!

Creative Strategies for a More Successful Summer Food Service Program

If your district is participating in a local Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), you know how important it is to provide nutritious meals even after the last day of school. There are many ways to increase participation in the program, including some out-of-the-box methods you may have never considered. These creative tips can help you brainstorm how to best promote your SFSP this summer.

Host fun events! Kick off your program with a fun event to engage sponsors, partners, families, and the community. You could host a health fair, a group exercise class, contests, music and more! Keep the events going throughout the year to re-engage the community, as site attendance tends to drop off in early July. Take a look at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service resources for information on how to bring your events to life!

Know your audience! Cater to the unique tastes of younger children, teens, and everyone in between. If your program allows, it may be beneficial to consider serving different age groups at different times in different ways. Targeting teens can be a challenge, so try taking your promotions to social media, plan events targeted towards teens, and provide volunteer or job opportunities to really get older students involved.

Go farm fresh with locally sourced fruits and vegetables! Did you know SFSP aligns well with a lot of peak growing seasons?  You can help support local growers while providing the very best for the children you serve! The USDA provides resources for incorporating local food into your SFSP menu.

Take your meals mobile! Expand your audience by hitting the road with your program. Consider a bus or food truck to bring summer feeding to the customer. Many programs are moving towards food trucks, for example, New Haven, Connecticut served more than 700 meals in their first week with their food truck on the road!

Partner with summer camps! Local summer camps are often responsible for providing lunch for many kids at a time. By partnering with summer camps, they can offer nutritious meals for lunch at no cost, while you bring in a bus full of hungry kids to your SFSP!

Serve adults too! Often times parents, guardians, and other adults accompany children to the feeding sites. Offset some of your expenses by providing meals that also appeal to these adults. Additionally, serving adults can help boost family and community engagement, provide children with healthy role models, and expand your site’s impact on hunger and nutrition. Read more here about the USDA’s regulations on feeding adults.  

Check out the USDA-FNS’s Summer Meals Toolkit for more creative ideas and resources for bringing these strategies to life!

3 Ways to Reduce End-of-Year Lunch Debt

At the end of the school year, uncollected lunch debt can put schools in a difficult situation. The balance between feeding hungry students and maintaining financial stability while also following district guidelines is crucial. Luckily, there are ways to help reduce this problem. Following these guidelines along with the help of Meals Plus can help you end your school year right.

1.  Make sure eligible students take advantage of free and reduced-price meals.

The start of the school year can strongly impact how your cafeteria finishes out the year. Communication with parents is crucial, and the sooner you can start the better! Create a summer outreach plan to encourage early application submission so kids have reimbursable meals from the first day of school. Moving this process online can also increase completed applications while making the processing easier for schools. With LunchApplication the free and reduced application process is easy and accessible for parents while integrating with the Meals Plus Free and Reduced program to accurately update eligibility.

2.  Encourage meal prepayment with alternative methods.

Another online solution for optimizing parent accessibility is offering an online payment system. With K12PaymentCenter, the process of loading money onto student accounts is simplified by allowing credit and debit card payments whenever they want. This automatically integrates with the Meals Plus POS so balance and activity are always updated.

3.  Remind parents when money is owed.

Being proactive in keeping parents informed about their student’s account can make a huge difference in decreasing outstanding balances. K12PaymentCenter not only allows parents to view account balances and what students are buying but also sends balance notifications via email and text, so they are always in the loop. Soon parents will even be able to do all of this from the convenience of their smartphone. Be on the lookout soon for K12PaymentCenter to hit the app store!

The key to reducing unpaid meal charges is being proactive, and communicating clearly. With Meals Plus, these steps can be taken in a simple, automated way making things easier for parents and cafeteria staff.  For more guidelines on overcoming the unpaid meal challenge, check out the USDA Food and Nutrition Service guide.

Innovation Brewing to Increase High School Milk and Breakfast Sales

In honor of National Dairy Month, we’re sharing how these high schools increased milk sales and breakfast participation while getting students involved! 

Getting students to drink milk can often be a challenge, especially at the high school level. June is National Dairy Month, so it is the perfect time to implement creative strategies to increase milk sales. A rising trend among high schools is starting a coffee cart in order to increase milk sales and overall breakfast participation. Instead of making a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks before school for coffee and breakfast items, students can choose a more nutritious option conveniently located on campus.

Right outside of Cleveland, OH, the Mayfield High School Student Council led an initiative to bring “Cat’s Coffee Bar” to campus. With the help of the Mayfield School Service Department, the school was offered a $5,000 grant from the American Dairy Association. Students can choose from four 12-ounce coffee choices for $2.00 or $1.00 with a breakfast purchase. Soy milk and seasonal flavor are also available. All items sold at these coffee bars must meet USDA school meal and Smart Snack guidelines. These guidelines regulate the amount of milk, sugar, and espresso allowed as well as beverage sizes.

Cat’s Coffee Bar opened at the end of January 2017 and in just four months the cart served 229 gallons more milk than over the same time period last year. Also in that time period, 1,554 more breakfasts were sold than the previous year—that’s 14 more breakfasts per day!

The benefits of coffee carts go beyond sales. Like Mayfield, many coffee carts are run by the student council or business classes and clubs. For example at Fairmont High in Kettering, OH, Marketing Club Students operate the coffee bar in exchange for a stipend to the Marketing Fund and Digital Design students created the logo for their, “Korner Café.”

Whether you’re starting your own coffee stand or another grab-and-go breakfast program, the biggest lesson we can learn from Mayfield and Fairmont is that involving students in creative nutrition programs can yield amazing results!

Grants for these programs can be obtained from various sources including the America Dairy Association, Dairy MAX, and Statewide dairy councils. Learn about more ways to promote milk sales during National Dairy month here!

Tips for a Successful Year End (with a FREE printable checklist)

The end of the school year is here! That means it’s the perfect time to make sure your front and back of house systems are ready to go for the fall. The sooner you get a jump-start on these preparations, the better. To make it simpler, we’ve created an easy-to-follow checklist for closing out the year, along with a free printable PDF guide!

Update your software and hardware.

If necessary, now is the perfect time to update your systems. Check for new software updates to install. You will also want to evaluate if your hardware needs updating. Identify hardware with expired warranties and evaluate what the impact would be if the device needed to be repaired or replaced. If it would be more expensive to fix, it may be worth it to buy new with a fresh warranty. Check for other signs of age too. If a device is causing productivity or financial loss, investing in a newer, more reliable product may be necessary.

Backup your data.

Everyone can agree that your nutrition data such as financials and student information are highly important! That’s why we highly recommend that the end of school year database backup be saved off your server, and not routinely deleted.

Assess your inventory.

Decide what needs to go and what can stay during the summer months. Meals Plus makes this process easy with the new Mobile Inventory App. You can quickly and efficiently connect inventory in your warehouse or school to your Meals Plus Inventory Desktop. The app works with scanning hardware to make the process even quicker!

Plan menus for the upcoming year.

Start planning new recipes for your students to try out next year and publish your menus to help improve your program’s marketing efforts. With our digital menu suite integration through School Nutrition and Fitness, you can customize fun and professional looking online menus and digital menu boards. These tools will help you get students and parents excited for what next year has in store!

Plan ahead for next school year.

The sooner you start planning for next year, the more prepared you will be. Have cafeteria managers create the first back-to-school order now. You can also use the summer months to train new staff so they are ready for the first day. You should coordinate with the student information system too. We recommend you not enable imports again until the student information system is updated with data for the new school year.

With the help of these tips and the solutions offered by MealsPlus, you can end the year strong, and feel ready to take on the fall! To help you keep track of these steps, download our free printable End of the Year checklist!

Child Nutrition and Psychology Combine for Smarter Lunchrooms

What do psychologists at Cornell University and Child Nutrition Directors have in common? They both want to figure out how to help students make healthier choices in the cafeteria!

Cynthia Sevier, the School Nutrition Operations Consultant for Meals Plus, at the 2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium with a Meals Plus customer at Cornell University in early May.

In 2009 Cornell’s Food & Brands Lab created the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. These studies examine how social and environmental elements of a cafeteria can influence students’ food selection and consumption. In other words, Smarter Lunchrooms provides low or no cost strategies to ‘nudge’ students to choose healthier foods while also decreasing waste, increasing participation, and increasing revenue. Some of these strategies include moving healthy food options to easy to reach, high-traffic areas, labeling healthy meals with fun, creative names, and representing white milk as at least 1/3 of all milk on display.

Earlier this month, Cynthia Sevier, School Nutrition Operations Consultant for Meals Plus, attended the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium hosted by Cornell University. At the symposium, Cynthia learned about how the six principles of behavioral economics apply to food psychology. She also heard about research on Smarter Lunchrooms conducted in Florida, Georgia. Montana, and Nigeria. As a former Child Nutrition Director and certified School Nutrition Specialist, Cynthia said that the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium was, “a great environment to learn about encouraging students to make healthy food choices.”

For more information and resources on making your cafeteria smarter, visit Smarter Lunchrooms Movement online. See how Meals Plus can help you plan smart options for your students with the menu planning and nutrient analysis solutions!

 

3 Ways to Prevent Allergic Reactions in Your Cafeteria

Did you know in a cafeteria of 100 students, at least four are likely to be affected by food allergies? In addition, about 20% of these students with food allergies will have a reaction while at school. That’s why food allergy awareness is vital for schools! These tips can help ensure each student who passes through the lunch line is safe with the help of Meals Plus!

1. Identify student with allergies.
The first step in promoting safety and inclusion in the cafeteria is knowing which students are allergic to which ingredients. Meals Plus offers built-in dietary and allergen restriction features that allow for “prohibited item” settings, custom messages for cashiers, allergy reports, and more!

2. Keep cafeteria staff informed.
Each staff member is an important part of the food allergy management team. It is essential to create an allergen-safe food preparation area and post informative posters, in English and Spanish, to remind staff about allergen safety. Develop cleaning procedures including washing all tables and chairs with soap and water after each meal period. Also be sure staff is checking and re-checking all food labels with each purchase for potential food allergens.

3. Get parents involved.
The key to managing food allergies is through a partnership between families and schools. Be attentive to the particular needs of each child with food allergies and discuss an individual Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan with parents. It is also helpful to provide menus in advance for parents to use in planning. With our digital menu suite integration with School Nutrition and Fitness, parents can filter specific allergens to personalize cafeteria menus to their child’s unique options.

Following these three tips and providing ongoing training on the severity of food allergies and the precautions will help ensure a child’s safety. At Meals Plus we are dedicated to keeping your lunch line moving safely for every student’s needs! You can also help spread awareness this week in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 13-19, 2018). But, there will be chances to get involved throughout the whole month of May!