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!

Where’s Graham? He Joined Staff Development Day!

Graham with Ashley Summers, Marketing Specialist (left), and Kathleen Moss, Field Supervisor (right), at Lexington High School, for their Food Service and Nutrition training.

Lexington County School District 1 (SC) Food Service and Nutrition employees enjoyed a week of training, and learning how they can better serve students and promote their school meal program. Congratulations to the schools that got “Grahamed” and received a plush Graham doll, for thinking of new and fun ways to market your child nutrition program in the cafeteria!

Meals Plus wants to help you increase participation in your cafeterias this year. You may have seen some of our resources in the past, including informational white papers and the annual Meals Plus Customer Cookbook. For the past two years, we have collected our customers’ most popular lunchroom recipes and compiled them into a complete child nutrition cookbook to share with our customers. Similarly, we now want to share ways to increase participation in your lunchrooms, and have created an encyclopedia of ways to promote your program. Download your free copy of “101 Ways to Increase Participation” today!

How this District Increased Participation by 5% with a Lunchroom Mascot

Meals Plus’ official mascot, Graham, has been traveling to child nutrition trade shows, software implementations, and vacationing with the Meals Plus Family for years. But recently, he’s been spending a lot of time in the lunchroom – and that’s turning into increased participation for Bladen County Schools (NC).

When Graham first visited Bladen County’s elementary schools, he was just a flat, cardboard cutout. But the students still loved him. Amy Stanley, the district’s Director of School Nutrition Services, said, “I’ve never seen anything like it, the students flipped for him! They wanted to hug him, talk to him, and they said they wanted to eat in the cafeteria because of Graham. That’s when I knew we could really do something special with Graham in our lunchrooms.”


Graham with his friends at Dublin Primary School’s Pre-K Class.


Graham has his own chair in the lunchline!

Together with the Meals Plus Marketing Team, Amy introduced Graham to her students in the form of a three-dimensional, plush doll. The students love Graham so much, he’s now a permanent fixture in their elementary school cafeterias. Amy’s staff sets Graham up on their breakfast cart in the morning, and on the serving line during lunch, and the schools conducted a Graham coloring contest. And when Amy generated reports in her Meals Plus child nutrition software, she found that by including Graham in her lunchrooms, her elementary schools had a 5% increase in breakfast and lunch participation.

It makes sense for Graham to be there. He’s a student in the lunchline, and excited to eat a healthy meal prepared by a loving cafeteria staff. We look forward to seeing how Graham can continue to help Bladen County Schools and all Meals Plus customers across the country increase their participation!

If you’d like Graham to come visit your school district, email him and he will make travel plans to see you!


Where’s Graham? He’s in a Coloring Contest!

Bladen County Schools (NC) held a coloring contest at East Arcadia Elementary School to promote their school meal program. Congratulations to the winners and congratulations the staff at East Arcadia for thinking of fun ways to market your program! (Principal Demetrice Jones, cafeteria staff Linda Miller and Dawn Young, and Director of School Nutrition Services Amy Stanley.)

UPDATE: In less than two months, Bladen County Schools increased participation by 5% in their elementary schools with the help of Graham. Click here to see how! 


To view all of the winners, click here.

If you’d like Graham to come to your school and encourage kids to eat healthy meals in the lunchroom, email him today at graham@mealsplus.com.


Cooking Competition Winners Announced!

This spring, the first annual Lexington One Cooks! competition was held for 4th-12th grade students in Lexington County School District One (SC). Students from grades 4-12 created a lunch entree that followed NSLP guidelines, and the first place winners’ recipes received an embroidered chef’s apron, a chef-grade skillet and knife, and their winning recipes will be included in the 2016-2017 school menu.

Congratulations to the first place winners!

  • Anna Cully, ‘Carolina Chili’
    Fourth-grader at Midway Elementary School
  • Sydney Bell, ‘Mediterranean Pita’
    Seventh-grader at Pleasant Hill Middle School
  • Mikayla Bostick, ‘Meatloaf Cups’
    Senior at White Knoll High School

Lexington_child_NutritionSydney Bell was the grand prize winner, and will have a featured spotlight in the 2016 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook. The cookbook is comprised of Meals Plus customers’ most popular recipes and is downloadable to the entire child nutrition industry via our website. (Click here to download the 2015 edition!)

And congratulations to the runners-up!

  • Amber Russell, ‘Picnic Pocket’ – first runner-up
    Fourth-grader at Rocky Creek Elementary School
  • Skyler Hustus, ‘Creole-Inspired Baked Chicken’ – first runner-up
    Sixth-grader at Pelion Middle School
  • James Phillips, ‘Thai Chicken Breasts’ – first runner-up
    Junior at White Knoll High School
  • Elyse Henson, ‘Midlands Chicken’ – second runner-up
    Fourth-grader at Pleasant Hill Elementary School
  • Daphne Thompson, ‘Cheesy Vegetable Egg Bake’ – second runner-up
    Senior at Pelion High School

First runners-up received a chef-grade skillet and embroidered chef’s coat, and second runners-up received an embroidered chef’s apron and cookbook. All of the winning recipes from Lexington One Cooks! will be in the 2016 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook, which will be available this winter. (If you’re a Meals Plus customer and would like to submit a recipe for this year’s cookbook, please email them to recipes@mealsplus.com.)

Congratulations to the students and staff at Lexington County School District One for a successful competition! You are all a shining star in the Meals Plus Family!


Cooking Contest Allows Students to Contribute to District Menu

If you’ve been following our blog, you are probably already aware that Lexington School District One (SC) is promoting their meal program in really fun and exciting ways. They have had cooking demonstrations at community-wide festivals, increased participation in the lunchroom with Rice Krispies Treats® and are currently hosting a cooking contest for their district’s students.

Lexington 1 Cooks is a healthy lunch recipe competition for students that enjoy making healthy and affordable lunches. Three winners will be chosen by a panel of guest judges, each will win an All-Clad Sauté Pan and Spatula, and their recipe will be featured on the 2016-2017 district’s menu. The Grand Prize winners will also have their recipes featured in our 2016 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook. There will be prizes for second and third places, and every student that submits a recipe will receive a coupon for one free sales item in their cafeteria.

Each recipe submission must meet NSLP guidelines and use ingredients from a pre-approved list, which means Lexington One Cooks not only teaches students about healthy meal choices, but it is also an opportunity to teach students and parents about school menu regulations.

Invitation to the First Annual Lexington One Cooks Award Ceremony.

Invitation to the First Annual Lexington One Cooks Award Ceremony.

The winners will be announced on May 5th, 2016, and we can’t wait to share the winners and their recipes here on our blog. Good luck to the participants and thank you, Lexington School District One, for making school meals fun!


How to Promote Your School Meal Program in Your Community: A Lesson from Lexington School District One

The Office of Food Service and Nutrition at Lexington School District One in Lexington, SC is always thinking of creative ways to promote their program. Through contests, literature, and special events like Birthday Rice Krispies Treat® Days, they increase participation in the lunchrooms in a variety of ways, and not just within their district.


Lexington School District One’s veggie prep demonstration at the 2015 Kid’s Day of Lexington.

Their promotions reach further than the school website or PTA newsletter, but extends to their entire county. Each year, they host a vendor’s table at Kid’s Day of Lexington. The festival is free to attend and attracts thousands of families in their area. (In 2014, there were over 20,000 in attendance!) Their table includes free goodie bags with Smart Snacks and print collateral for their program’s initiatives, such as the summer feeding and Farm to Table programs.


The district is using this marketing flyer to promote Kid’s Day of Lexington on social media and via PeachJar.

They also have live vegetable preparation demonstrations at their booth, which have been extremely successful. So successful, they are even dance-worthy. According to the department’s director, Pat Carter, “Many times, we are introducing children to vegetables they have never had. We had the sweetest child stop by our booth one year – he tried a vegetable for the first time and loved it so much he started dancing!” The booth also gives parents the opportunity to see the healthy and tasty foods the department serves in their lunchrooms.

Congratulations to the child nutrition team at Lexington School District One for not only promoting your program in a creative way, but encouraging healthy lifestyle choices to the children of Lexington, SC! You are a shining star in the Meals Plus Family.


Increasing Meal Participation, One Rice Krispies Treat® at a Time

Lexington School District One’s (SC) Office of Food and Nutrition Services are implementing some really exciting promotions in their cafeterias, and they are seeing all of their hard work pay off! One of their many events is the “Birthday Rice Krispies Treat® Day,” which is held monthly at their district’s elementary schools.

Even though the event is tied to students’ birthdays in that month, all students are encouraged to participate, and for every lunch purchase, students receive a free Whole-Grain Rice Krispies Treat®. Parents are invited to attend this highly anticipated event, which is included in the district’s menu calendar. They even setup a “selfie station” to take pictures with fun props! The department’s Marketing Specialist, Ashley Summers, has seen meal participation rise on Birthday Rice Krispies Treat® Days, and noted that sales were “through the roof” after one of the events at Deerfield Elementary School.


Congratulations to Ashley, Director of Food Service and Nutrition Pat Carter, and the entire team at Lexington School District One for making healthy meals fun for your students! We will be sharing more exciting marketing ideas from Lexington School District One, so be sure to stay tuned to our blog for more ideas you can try in your own cafeterias.



Tips from Our Child Nutrition Operations Consultant: Promoting Your School Meal Program

In our white paper, “The 5 P’s of Promoting Your School Meal Program,” Child Nutrition Operations Consultant Cynthia Sevier, SNS, examines how you can promote your child nutrition program, and shares real-life experiences in school districts across the country. “The 5 P’s” are Product, Placement, Promotion, Price and People. Here is an excerpt of the white paper illustrating how you can implement “Promotion” in your program:

Social media is a vast, untapped resource for school nutrition programs and is a direct participation_in_the_cafeteriaconnection between our students and parents. It takes time and commitment but can be a vehicle to reach students and parents with information about the program. Check with your school board policies concerning the use of social media before beginning.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are being used by students and parents, and can be very valuable in telling your story. Perception doesn’t always equal reality and this becomes apparent with some of the postings. By sharing your story, you are communicating who you are and what you are capable of doing. You are earning your customers attention rather than “buying” it. Why not take the opportunity to answer questions and educate our stakeholders?

Information that is posted must be current and relevant to create and keep interest.

To read more about marketing your school meal program, download your free copy of “The 5 P’s of Promoting Your School Meal Program.