Child Nutrition and Psychology Combine for Smarter Lunchrooms

What do psychologists at Cornell University and Child Nutrition Directors have in common? They both want to figure out how to help students make healthier choices in the cafeteria!

Cynthia Sevier, the School Nutrition Operations Consultant for Meals Plus, at the 2018 Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium with a Meals Plus customer at Cornell University in early May.

In 2009 Cornell’s Food & Brands Lab created the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. These studies examine how social and environmental elements of a cafeteria can influence students’ food selection and consumption. In other words, Smarter Lunchrooms provides low or no cost strategies to ‘nudge’ students to choose healthier foods while also decreasing waste, increasing participation, and increasing revenue. Some of these strategies include moving healthy food options to easy to reach, high-traffic areas, labeling healthy meals with fun, creative names, and representing white milk as at least 1/3 of all milk on display.

Earlier this month, Cynthia Sevier, School Nutrition Operations Consultant for Meals Plus, attended the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium hosted by Cornell University. At the symposium, Cynthia learned about how the six principles of behavioral economics apply to food psychology. She also heard about research on Smarter Lunchrooms conducted in Florida, Georgia. Montana, and Nigeria. As a former Child Nutrition Director and certified School Nutrition Specialist, Cynthia said that the Smarter Lunchrooms Symposium was, “a great environment to learn about encouraging students to make healthy food choices.”

For more information and resources on making your cafeteria smarter, visit Smarter Lunchrooms Movement online. See how Meals Plus can help you plan smart options for your students with the menu planning and nutrient analysis solutions!


Coming Soon: 101 Ways to Increase Participation

We all want to increase participation in the lunchroom, right? Well, we want to help!

You may have seen some of our resources in the past, including white papers and the Meals Plus Customer Cookbooks. In the past two years, we have collected our customers’ most popular lunchroom recipes and compiled them into a complete child nutrition cookbook. Similarly, we want to collect all the ways you increase participation in your lunchrooms to create an encyclopedia of ways to promote your program!

Share anything you’re doing in your cafeterias, no matter how big or small, and we’ll include them in our latest white paper, “101 Ways to Increase Participation.” Do you use a lunchroom mascot, like Graham, that the students enjoy seeing in the lunchline? Do you write motivational messages on your banana peels? Maybe you have fun with naming your dishes, and you renamed your side of cucumbers to the “Cool as a Cucumber Coins” and students responded to the catchy name.

Let’s show the entire child nutrition industry how successful Meals Plus customers are, and shine a spotlight on your department’s successful promotions. And you’ll get to learn new tips from other Meals Plus customers!

We’ll be accepting your submissions until June 9, 2017, and the white paper will be available to download this summer-just in time for the 2017-2018 school year. If you’d like to include photos of your promotions, we will also include those in the white paper. Email your submissions to the Meals Plus Child Nutrition Operations Consultant, Cynthia Sevier, SNS.

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


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.


“The 5 P’s of Promoting Your School Meal Program” LIVE at the NC-SNA Conference

Nowadays, it takes more than the occasional promotion to market your school meal program. Join this Educational Mini Session at the SNA of North Carolina Annual Conference to learn how your marketing strategies can be more effective within the following areas: Product, Placement, Promotion, Price, and People. Audience: Directors, Supervisors, Managers.

nc sna conference 2016

The session is hosted by Cynthia Sevier, SNS, who has over 30 years of experience in school food service. She retired from Guilford County Schools in North Carolina, a district with 122 schools, and offers consulting services.

Are you interested in Cynthia presenting at your conference or district? Contact her today for more information! 


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.


Tips from Our Child Nutrition Operations Consultant: Fiscal Survival 101 for Child Nutrition

In Cynthia Sevier’s white paper, “Fiscal Survival 101 for Child Nutrition: Financial Success in the Era of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,” she examines the four indicators of evaluating your child nutrition program’s financial health. One of these is Meal Cost, and she highlights twelve practices to control food costs. Below are four of the practices; to read more, download your free copy of the white paper here!

School_meal_guidlines1. Use of production records show how much food was produced, served and left over or discarded. If used wisely, production records show trends of what items students are eating, and if too much or too little food is being served and/or prepared.

2. Use “offer versus serve.”

3. Cooperative purchasing if possible. Joining other school districts creates a bid with more volume. Volume buying often results in lower per item cost.

4. Batch cooking or preparing food “just in time” controls leftovers and lessens holding time resulting in a fresher, more appealing product. Work schedules help guide assistants in managing time wisely.

To read more about the four indicators of financial health, download your free copy of “Fiscal Survival 101 for Child Nutrition: Financial Success in the Era of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”


We’re Halfway Through the School Year; Now is a Good Time to Look at Your Inventory Levels

We hope you find these inventory management tips from our Child Nutrition Operations Consultant, Cynthia Sevier, SNS, helpful! For more information on Cynthia’s consulting services, contact us today.

As the first half of the school year quickly approaches, it is a good time to take a look at inventory levels in schools. Inventory control is having enough inventory on hand to meet expectations within a certain period of time, but not having excess that lends itself to spoilage or theft. High inventories tie up cash, take up storage space and are more difficult to count. Low inventories result in the inability to follow menus or standardized recipes, which can affect participation or acceptability of the finished products. It could also have a direct impact on whether or not federal and state program regulations are met.

So how much inventory is excessive or inadequate? Inventory level goals can be set for each school site based on food costs and the number of days of inventory that is on hand. Measure of inventory efficiency is the number of days on hand and the turnover rate.


Most authorities set the standard of having 7-10 days of inventory on hand and have a turnover rate of 2-3.

Using food cost goals as a percent to revenue and determining inventory levels can not only help managers to be aware of the processes of ordering, receiving, production and tracking food at their school, but to also look for ways to control waste and theft.

For additional information on inventory control for your child nutrition department, take a look at the white paper I authored, “Managing the Money on the Pantry Shelves.”


Tips from Cynthia Sevier, SNS, Child Nutrition Operations Consultant

In our white paper, “Managing the Money on the Pantry Shelves,” Child Nutrition Operations Consultant Cynthia Sevier, SNS, shares tips to managing your child nutrition department’s inventory. Menu planning, supply chains, food costs, tracking foods and more are examined. Below is the “Procurement” section of this free white paper.School_food_inventory

After a menu has been developed, the procurement processes of product search and bid development begins.

Some argue that the menu cannot be developed before a product search is done. However, the cost of experimenting with products on menus that have not been tested with students could prove to be costly.

Whichever is preferred, menus must be completed in adequate time to order commodities and to develop bids. In order to accommodate changes in student preferences, availability in the market or changes in commodity purchases, plan menus with some flexibility.

Inventory management includes the purchase of quality products at reasonable prices. Inferior products may result in a decrease in participation or spoiled inventory that has be discarded. The possible success of a recipe begins with quality ingredients.”

For more tips on managing your district cafeterias’ inventory, download your free copy of
Managing the Money on the Pantry Shelves: Inventory Management for Your Child Nutrition Department


School Nutrition Association’s ANC 2015 Wrap-Up

Another successful year at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference!

Members of the Meals Plus Team were on-hand at the SNA’s Annual National Conference last week, including Child Nutrition Operations Consultant, Cynthia Sevier, SNS. She wore many hats at ANC 2015 – attending general sessions, education sessions and was at the Meals Plus Booth during the exhibit hall hours handing out our collectible Salt Lake City lapel pins.

sna anc 2015Cynthia attended Sunday’s “Building a Financially Sustainable Meal Program” Education Session, where presenters including Jeremy West, CDM, SNS, of Weld County School District 6 (CO), illustrated how extremely important it is to know where your revenue comes from. Generating income outside of the standard breakfast and lunch hours is imperative. He recommended to “tell your story” with stakeholders, who are not only your students, but parents and district administrative staff as well. Don’t assume they know about your child nutrition program. If appropriate, share your business plan with them to optimize your department’s success. (For an in-depth look at the top indicators of your child nutrition department’s financial health, download our free white paper, “Fiscal Survival 101: Financial Success in the Era of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.“)

Menu boards were also a popular topic of conversation at ANC 2015. Obviously they are used as a dynamic menu board in the cafeteria, but they can be used for so much more. School announcements, themes such as homecoming week, farm-to-school promotions, nutritional information and advertising new menu items are all appropriate topics for your menu boards. Remember to keep them current and there is no need to overcrowd them. Simplicity is key. (Do you use video menu boards in your cafeterias? Check out the Meals Plus menu board interface!)

And of course there are two major items in effect this year for our industry: Child Nutrition Reauthorization and Professional Standards for School Nutrition Professionals. There are lots of free resources available to make these processes easier, including a Food Research and Action Center Child Nutrition Reauthorization webinar and a Training Tracking Tool from the USDA. Follow our blog and e-newsletter (subscribe to our newsletter here) for more free resources to help with reauthorization and professional standards in the coming months.

Thank you to the School Nutrition Association, the city of Salt Lake City, and everyone who helped make ANC 2015 a success! We can’t wait to see you all in San Antonio next year!


CNIC 2013: A Wrap-up by Cynthia Sevier, SNS

This year, Meals Plus was represented at the Child Nutrition Industry Conference in San Antonio, TX by our own School Nutrition Operations Consultant, Cynthia Sevier, SNS. And in case you missed the event (which set a record of close to 600 attendees!), we have a wrap-up of the highlights to keep you in better informed.

As the former Child Nutrition Director of Guilford County Schools, which is the third largest district in North Carolina, Cynthia was pleased to see representatives from NC at the event. Attendees included Lenoir County, Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Thomasville City Schools. The general sessions and Industry Breakouts explored the use of data and benchmarking. In a panel discussion, three directors presented profit/loss statements that they used in their individual districts. Lora Gilbert of Orange County Public Schools (FL) discussed how important the use of data and benchmarking is to her district’s operations. She emphasized the use of participation and food cost information. The use of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, was presented in one of the general sessions also.

In regards to the USDA and School Nutrition Association, the SNA is urging the USDA to not only extend the temporary lifting of restricts on meats and proteins, but to make the change permanent with the 2013 Legislative Issue Paper. The USDA said that change is slow, but that they are listening. The USDA is still expecting the breakfast meal pattern will go into effect next school year as scheduled even though SNA is asking for a delay.