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!

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!

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!

Meal Benefit Expiration and Grace Period

Can you believe summer break is almost over? We want to make sure back-to-school is as stress-free as it can be, which includes eliminating technology headaches. One way to stay ahead of the curve for the 2017-2018 school year is setting up your Meal Benefit Expiration and Grace Periods in Meals Plus Free and Reduced. Here are instructions to setup both from our award-winning Meals Plus Help Desk.

Meal Benefit Expiration and Grace Periods are both accessed via the Administration menu, under “Meal Benefit Expiration.”

Students who were approved for free or reduced lunch in a previous school year are allowed a grace period at the beginning of the next year. They are allowed to continue to receive benefits based on last year’s applications for a period of time (usually 30 days) after the new school year begins.

Meal Benefit Expiration (MBE) is used to set up expiration dates for the carry-over statuses for students who do not submit a new lunch application for the new school year.

  • On the expiration date that you specify, all of last year’s status 2 and 3 students that have not been submitted new applications will become status 4 (paid).
  • You can set up multiple expiration dates if you have school calendars with different starting dates (for example, Year Round and Traditional). You only need one MBE date for each starting date in your school calendars.
  • Click Clear to clear the screen to set up a new MBE date.

UPPER GRID – This grid displays the created MBE dates.

  • Highlight a row in the upper grid to select it for editing purposes.
    • UNDEFINED means that an expiration date has not been set for that site. Generally, all sites should be associated with an MBE date.

MIDDLE SECTION

  • Enter a description (Examples: Traditional, Year Round) in the Description text field.
  • Select the expiration date from the Expiration Date text field. It must be a future date.
    • Once the date has passed, it cannot be modified.
  • Select the number of days for the grace for the New Application Grace Period, which applies to students eating off of last year’s status (2 or 3) with the submission of a new application this year.
  • Select the number of days for the grace period for the Modified Application Grace Period for adverse changes with new applications and for modifications to existing applications.
    • This was set to 10-days for the future examples (i.e. Verification Results Input) in this document, per the USDA standard.
    • Beneficial changes are immediate. The grace period only applies to adverse changes.
    • Setting the grace period to 0 will result in the status change happening the next morning. Therefore, you may wish to process your applications accordingly.
  • Select the number of days for the grace period for the Student Transfer from CEP or Prov. 2 Site Grace Period for adverse changes for students transferring from a CEP or Provision 2 site to allow parents/guardians time to submit an application.
    • This was set to 10-days as a default.
    • This is helpful for situations when a student has never had to submit an application before.

LOWER GRID

  • Check the Site Groups or Sites that expire on that date from the lower grid.
    • On Site Groups view, a check means all sites use this date; a square in the checkbox means some but not all sites in the group are assigned to the date.
    • On Sites view, the assigned sites are checked and positioned at top; other sites are unchecked and listed at the bottom.

On the first login to POS, Student Eligibility or Accountability that occurs on or after the expiration date:

  • Students with expired statuses will automatically be set to status 4.
  • No further grace period is allowed and no letters are generated.

After the expiration date, any status changes must be done from Student Eligibility.

  • No status changes will be allowed from POS Account Setup, Imports, or from the Status Change Utility.

For Transfers and Re-enroll of status 5 students from Import:

  • It checks the MBE date for the site the student is transferring or re-enrolling into.
  • If the MBE date has passed for that site, it sets the status to 4 if there is no application on file.

Meal Benefit Expiration Report

This report located under Reports will give a list of students who either had their status changed because of MBE, or are expected to have their status change when the MBE runs.

Graham’s Best Practices: Inventory, Menus and Production

Cafeteria Analysis Software

Hi, I’m Graham! I’m Meals Plus.

I want to make sure you get the most out of your cafeteria management software system. So if you’re a Meals Plus Inventory or Menus & Production customer, check out these “Best Practice” tips to help keep your lunchlines moving!

Inventory:
• Run Transaction Summary preview while Physicals are still open so that changes can be made prior to posting.
• Assign Blanket PO Invoices to their own batch so the Close PO checkboxes are more easily used for single PO Invoices.
• Physicals cannot be reopened once they are closed. Consider restricting rights to ‘Save Only’ for users keying Physicals.

Menus & Production:
• Save time creating Cycle Menus by using the Duplicate feature to copy an existing, then give it another Nutritional Standard.
• Using Reimbursable Meals in a Cycle Menu saves time since they contain all required food components for a Nutritional Standard.
• Update Inventory Usage automatically from Production Records by linking Menus Ingredients to Inventory Items.

cafeteria_inventory_tracking_technologies

Graham’s Best Practices: Student Eligibility and Systems Management

Hi, I’m Graham! I’m Meals Plus. Cafeteria Software System

I want to make sure you get the most out of your cafeteria management software system. So if you’re a Meals Plus Student Eligibility or System Management customer, check out these “Best Practice” tips to help keep your lunchlines moving!

Student Eligibility:
• Grace Periods for adverse changes are setup under the Meal Benefit Expiration section of the Administration menu.
• The Unapplied and Approved % columns in the Demographics report are available for the day in which the report is ran.
• Once the Meal Benefit Expiration has run, all statuses must be changed from within an application rather than Point of Sale.

System Management:
• Close School Year & Begin School Year Checklists found in Appendix A of the System Management online Help file.
• Custom Spreadsheets can be created, saved, and exported from Export Data section of the Administration menu.
• New software features from an auto update are activated in the User Group Setup section of the Security menu.

free_and_reduced_student_management

Graham’s Best Practices: Accountability and Financial

Hi, I’m Graham! I’m Meals Plus. Nutrient analysis program

I want to make sure you get the most out of your school lunchroom software. So if you’re a Meals Plus Accountability or Financial customer, check out these “Best Practice” tips to help keep your lunchlines moving!

Accountability:
• The Non-Participating Students report is a great tool to see students currently not participating in Breakfast or Lunch.
• The Unclosed Dates report is a quick way to ensure all meals have been accounted for so claims are accurate.
• Closed Days for Point of Sale can be edited in the Daily Deposit section. Days can also be created and deleted here.

Financial:
• Import Account Info before running any reports, especially after posting to the General Ledger, so activity is captured.
• The Performance Metrics report data contains expense to revenue, plate costs, participation, and meals per labor hour.
• The Point of Sale Account Codes under the Administration menu are used by the Revenue Summary in Accountability.

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