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!

[Free Download] 2017 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook

To show our appreciation our Meals Plus Customers, we have published our 2017 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook! This free cookbook is filled with over 40 popular recipes in an effort to help increase participation in the lunchroom, while still meeting USDA meal pattern regulations. It also includes creative promotional ideas and award-winning recipes from student cooking competitions from Middletown City Schools (OH) and Lexington School District One (SC). 

Hard copies are available for purchase at cost. Email recipes@mealsplus.com for more information. You can also download the cookbook completely free, here!

Would you like to submit a recipe for our 2018 Customer Cookbook? Email them to recipes@mealsplus.com. You can submit as many recipes as you’d like, and we welcome photos of your dishes.

Thank you for being a part of the Meals Plus Family, and Happy Holidays!

Spice Up National School Lunch Week – Creole Style!

This week is National School Lunch Week!

For NSLW 2016, we are featuring recipes from our 2016 Meals Plus Customer Cookbook. This cookbook will feature 50+ delicious school meal recipes submitted by Meals Plus Customers and school lunch recipes using USDA Foods. And best of all – every Meals Plus Customer receives one free copy! Our third featured recipe is from the Lexington One Cooks! Student Cooking Competition. Skyler Hustus won the first runner up prize in the Middle School Division with his recipe for Creole Baked Chicken.

6 servings – breast or thigh roasted 4 piece fully cooked chicken breast and thighs
1 lb. – canned diced tomatoes, in juice 6/#10 cans; as purchased
1 c. – chopped raw onion
1 c. – chopped sweet green raw peppers
1/4 tsp. – table salt
1/4 tsp. – garlic powder, spices
1/4 tsp. – chili powder, spices
1/4 tsp. – parka, spices
1 tbsp. Canola extra virgin olive oil

CCP: Wash, rinse, and sanitize all food contact surfaces.
CCP: Wash hands properly before beginning food preparations.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degree.
CCP: Cook raw chicken to 165°, CCP: Cook all “Fully Cooked” commercially processed foods to 135°.
2. Bake fully cooked chicken until an internal temperature of 135 degrees is reached.
CCP: Wash fresh fruits & vegetables under cold running water. 
3. While chicken is baking in a 2qt sauce pan sauté onions and peppers in olive oil until translucent. Add tomatoes and seasoning and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes.
4. Top each portion of chicken with 3oz of sauce and serve.

creole-baked-chicken2Nutrients per serving:
Calories – 219.255
Chol (mg) – 99.943
Sodium (mg) – 403.255
Fiber (gm) – 1.942
Iron (mg) – 0.431
Calc (mg) – 57.991
Vit A (IU) – 432.387
Vit C (mg) – 28.022
Protein (gm) – 20.239
Carb (gm) – 7.013
Tot Fat (gm) – 12.479
Sat Fat (gm) – 3.710
Sugars (gm) – 0.000*
Trans Fat (gm) – 0.000*



Why You Should Consider Using Cycle Menus and More Menu Planning Tips

Menu planning can become tedious for you and your students if it is repeated monthly.  And now that the menus have stricter nutrition standards, planning becomes even more of a challenge. Child Nutrition Operations Consultant Cynthia Sevier, SNS, has compiled these tips to ease the pain of district menu planning.

Control-centralized cycle menus are more likely to control the number of menu items than those developed by individual school site managers. A centralized cycle menu creates a pattern which:

  • Students are familiar with and expect to see
  • Staff members are more likely to be familiar with preparation requirements resulting in less waste
  • Managers are able to forecast the menus items that students will choose

Menu PlanningStudent acceptability. Consider utilizing only the most popular items and dropping those that are not selected by at least 25 students per day. Keeping unpopular items on the menu increases inventory cost because turnover is slow. Menus should be developed to utilize commodities and produce while-in-season to control plate costs.  Streamlining certain products that can be utilized in more than one recipe is a cost controlling measure.

Appealing, appetizing choices. Students have so many choices now. Those choices are not limited to those served in the school cafeteria. Children dine out with parents and are becoming more sophisticated in their food selections. Are the school menus offering fresh foods that are prepared correctly and served in an appealing manner? Is there a variety of colors, tastes and textures within each menu?

Ease of preparation and serving. Menus should be developed with consideration of amount of preparation that will be required and the type of equipment to be used for optimizing the product. Are there too many items that will need oven preparation on a given menu, creating competition for oven space? Consider the number of items that will be on the serving line and the ease of serving. Are the lines too crowded? Students should be able to move through the line quickly and not be slowed by waiting on servers. Menus full of items that have to be “dipped” can slow the line.

Plan the menu using the above tips early so that wise food and equipment purchases can be made. For more tips from Cynthia and other child nutrition professionals, check out the Meals Plus White Paper Library for free downloads.


Wake Up to School Breakfast!

nutritional_analysis_software_2National School Breakfast Week (NSBW) is right around the corner! To celebrate, every day that week (March 7-11, 2016) we will share a breakfast recipe from our Meals Plus Child Nutrition Cookbook here on our blog. So be sure to follow our blog, and for ideas to celebrate NSBW in your school cafeterias, visit the School Nutrition Association’s website.

Do you have a recipe that’s increased breakfast participation in your cafeterias? Email it to us and we will feature it on our blog!

School_cafeteria_software (2)

Meals Plus Customer Spotlight: Linda Miller, Perkins Local Schools (OH)

Linda Miller of Perkins Local Schools (OH) is a long-time Meals Plus customer that is still finding new ways Meals Plus can help her child nutrition operations. She recently implemented the Menu Planning and Nutrient Analysis program, which helps her stay on top of allergies, menu components and has been “a huge time saver” for her. Get to know Linda in this “Meals Plus Customer Spotlight” and click here to “meet” other food service directors from across the US!

The Dish: How long have you been using Meals Plus?
Linda Miller: I have been a Meals Plus customer since the Fall of 2002. Ben Hooks (CEO) came to demo the system and helped set our school up. As more requirements have been placed on the shoulder of food service directors, I have come to rely on my Meals Plus cafeteria software more and more.

TD: What duties and responsibilities does your position entail?
LM: I am responsible for everything from soup to nuts and bolts! I manage my staff, order food, prepare bids and menus, along with the nutritional analysis of those menus. I am responsible for the upkeep of my software and tons of paperwork that the Meals Plus system helps me with, and even order the equipment and repair parts when necessary. Anything within the Food Service Department winds up on my desk. Meals Plus has made my job easier. Our school is up for review this year and I will be using many of the reports to prepare for the review. Thank you, Meals Plus!

TD: What aspects of your position do you enjoy the most?
LM: I truly enjoy my interactions with the students and my staff. They are what my job is all about.

TD: What do you like to do in your free time?
LM: I have two grandchildren, ages three years old and six months old. They are the light of my life. My husband and I both enjoy gardening, so I’m busy in the summer with flowers and preserving all the vegetables from the gardens. I also enjoy cooking, cross stitch, knitting, crochet and sitting down with a good book.

TD: What is your favorite lunch when you were in school?
LM: Pizza burgers and the wonderful homemade cookies our lunch ladies made every day! I have some of those cookie recipes from my high school days that I still make.

Thank you, Linda, for being a part of the Meals Plus Family!

Nutrition analysis software

Menu Planning Software that Allows You to Create Menus with Ease

With the Meals Plus menu analysis software, managing school cafeteria menus and staying compliant with USDA guidelines is easy! You can also create calendars to send home with your students. And it is integrated with the Meals Plus cafeteria inventory management software, automating many of your daily processes.

Call 1-800-541-8999 or request a free 30 day trial for more information!