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!

Managing Food Safety in Meals Plus Cafeteria Software

As you may know, December is Worldwide Food Safety Month – a unique opportunity to raise awareness of food allergies inside and outside of schools. With all the buzz around increasing awareness and ensuring food safety in school cafeterias, it poses a question; is your school lunch POS software equipped to alert cashiers of students’ food allergies and other limitations?

Meals Plus understands the importance of ensuring student health and safety and wants to make sure you get all the safeguards you and your students need. Meals Plus school POS system provides a number of features associated with food allergies:

  • Custom messages for cafeteria cashiers
  • Bold pop-up alerts of food allergies for individual  students
  • ‘Prohibited’ item settings
  • Special Messages
  • Custom Allergen set-up
  • Student allergy reports

It’s another way we’re keeping the lunchlines moving…safely.

 

Are Enrollment Woes Giving You a Headache?

Hello,

This is Matt from Meals Plus. Keeping up with your enrollment and making sure it’s correct can be a headache. Along with all the other things you have to do every day, wouldn’t it be a bonus if you didn’t have to worry about it?

Meals Plus software has automated functions and reports to take the anxiety out of enrollments and withdrawals – it’s hands off so you can use that time on other tasks and we’ll even set it up for you!

We offer a full line of USDA approved programs including – Point of Sale, Free & Reduced, online applications, internet meal payments and school fees, Inventory Management, Menu Planning with Nutrient Analysis and much more…  Our suite of products, backed by award-winning customer support, is helping large and small nutrition programs in 40 states.

Whenever you have 10 minutes to talk, please Email me and we’ll set up a short appointment just to see if it makes sense to talk further.

Inventory, Menus and Production Tips, with Meals Plus Graham

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 a 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 cycle menu, 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.

 

Too Busy To Save Time? Meals Plus can help!

Hello,

This is Matt from Meals Plus.

You’re busy, I know – almost too busy to read this.  But if you’re thinking that it’s taking too long to complete child nutrition-related tasks, or that it takes too many steps, then please let me help you.  These programs are all great time-savers, and we have a dedicated person on staff to guide you through all the setup, so it couldn’t be easier!

Free and Reduced

  • Enter applications quickly and import your Direct Certification list in moments with our Free & Reduced program (or have the parents enter them with LunchApplication.com).
  • Email Notification Letters to parents.
  • Verification is just around the corner!  Meals Plus Free & Reduced program helps you complete the Verification steps in minutes.

Point of Sale

  • Have parents add money to their student’s lunch account with k12PaymentCenter.com.
  • Email low balance letters to parents directly from Point of Sale.
  • Get the students through the line quickly and record all the transactions to make it simple to get your reimbursement.

Inventory

  • Food orders can be generated in the Inventory Management program from the menu so Managers can quickly prepare their order for the week.
  • It’s easy to review and electronically submit food orders to vendors using the Inventory Management
  • Keep your on-hand up to date by automated usage from Production Reports.

Menus & Production

  • Complete a nutritional analysis with a button-press in the Menu Planning & Nutritional Analysis program.
  • Enjoy compliments from your staff (!) by having the Production Records pre-filled.
  • Automatically create usage based on Production Records.

Data at Your Fingertips

  • One centralized database, so you can ‘see’ into your cafeteria at any time – check inventory, display production reports, analyze sales, view timesheets, etc.

Do you have 10 minutes to talk about how Meals Plus can help?  Now is the time to get time-saving on the calendar! Email me today!

 

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!

Happy New (school) Year from Matt at Meals Plus!

Is it a happy new school year or are you drowning in the same old frustrations as this time last year?  Meals Plus can help you save time, money, and effort:

FOOD ORDERS: Get your food orders completed and sent to your vendors quickly and easily using Inventory Management.

ENROLLMENT: Ensure that your enrollment is up-to-date with automated imports from your Student Information System (if you use PowerSchool, it’s even easier with the PowerSchool Connector!).

DIRECT CERTIFICATION: Import your Direct Certification file directly into the system using our Free & Reduced program.

APPLICATIONS: Take the hassle out of entering Free & Reduced applications by having parents submit them online using LunchApplication.com.

MENU PLANNING: Generate a Nutrient Analysis with a button-press, and easily create menus using Menu Planning.

FAST, EASY-TO-USE, POS: Get the students through the line faster and keep track of all your sales with Point of Sale.

STUDENT DEBT: Help keep student balances in the black by having parents prepay for meals online using K12PaymentCenter.com.

REPORTING: When it comes to the end of the month, we have one report on one page that will summarize everything for you (Accountability Management reports and my blog post)!

Email me, matt@mealsplus.com so we can talk about how Meals Plus can help you streamline your food service operation!

Meals Plus Help Desk Statistics: July 2017

“Back to School” season is here, and the Meals Plus Help Desk is ready to provide you the best customer service in child nutrition technology!

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 July 2017’s surveys, and some highlights from the month:

  • The average time to answer a support call was only 13 seconds.
  • The average talk time with a customer was only 9 minutes and 22 seconds.

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

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.