This survey, sponsored by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Food Project of the PEW Charitable Trust, looked at school divisions' needs for training and for kitchen infrastructure and equipment. I was fortunate to attend a meeting this summer as a guest of the Project where they solicited detailed comments and suggestions from school nutrition operators.
I can tell you we are meeting the standards not just because we have to but moreso because our entire team has a CAN DO spirit. The standards were set with an implementation date that was before we had time to do staff training. We said we CAN DO it. The standards were established without funding for equipment. We said we CAN DO it. The standards changed during the first few months of implementation. We said we CAN DO it. The standards were released without details on how we would get a little bit of help (6 cents per meal) to pay for it. We said we CAN DO it.
From the report: "The standards—which called for schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products—were the first major change to school meals in more than 15 years." Yes, many schools had begun to work on meeting or exceeding the standards well before the feds. This was, in part, due to wanting to "do the right thing" for our student customers and offer healthier food. This reflects the CAN DO spirit.
What do the standards mean in terms of day to day operations that require a CAN DO spirit? When more fresh produce and whole grain items are offered, the food cost is higher program directors. When nutrition standards change, research and development costs are significant for food vendors. When fresh produce and scratch recipes are used, labor demands are greater for kitchen staff. When federal government standards dictate that a student MUST take a fruit or veggie and it is often thrown away, frustration is high for child nutrition services staff. Despite all of this, the entire team is forging ahead with a CAN DO attitude towards continuous improvement of food service operations.
The CAN DO attitude is of greater worth than the funding, training, infrastructure, and equipment. It is that CAN DO attitude that will sustain school food service teams through future tightening of nutrition regulations (for example, sodium limits will continue to decrease through 2020) and government oversight.
Hold onto your hair nets and tighten your aprons lunch ladies - you got this!