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!

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.

Whats New With LunchApplication.com?

The New LunchApplication.com

Accepting online free and reduced applications just got simpler, with the new LunchApplication.com from Meals Plus. The site has a fresh, new look with increased accuracy and is mobile responsive, so parents and guardians can easily complete applications on mobile devices. The site walks applicants through the process with easy to follow, step-by-step instructions. And by asking for more detailed, specific income information, you get a better picture of accurate household income.

The site helps applicants calculate wages for each individual, including students. Help documentation is available not just for your district employees, but parents and guardians as well. Pop-up definitions within the application and a search function clarifies required information for parents, the user can enter their hourly pay along with the average hours they work a week and it will calculate their weekly pay. The detailed summary page helps ensure they submit an accurate application. And soon, parents will be able to receive eligibility letters via email, reducing the amount of paperwork you have to do at the school level.

For more information on accepting free or reduced applications online, contact us today!