By Amber Hensley, Guest Editor
Photos by Jim Ezell, EZ Event Photography, courtesy of SNA
The first day of the Child Nutrition Industry Conference kicked off with the opening general session, â€˜School District 101: A Day in the Life of a Big City Chief Operating Officer.â€™ Speaker, Michael Eugene, chief operating officer for Orange County (Fla.) Public Schools shared his experiences of working with school foodservice departments within large districts.
While not having come from a school foodservice background, Eugene strives to work closely with his foodservice department to ensure its success. â€˜At the end of the day we all have to work together within the school districtâ€”we are all part of the same organization,â€™ said Eugene. He is the former business manager of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which includes 800 schools and serves over 643,000 meals per dayâ€”comparable to serving the entire city of Tucson.
The foodservice department is the most highly regulated department within the district and is the only department that must earn revenue. Technology has been a key component to the foodservice program’s success at LAUSD. With over 4,000 students being fed within 20 minutes, the district’s POS system allowed for more students to participate by speeding up the process. The system immediately identifies if the student is eligible for the free or reduced meal program, as well as aids in compiling data for better meal forecastingâ€”meaning more money spent on food versus labor.
â€˜The customer experience is a critical point in the success of the program,â€™ said Eugene. Students are involved in many of the department decisions including menu development via taste tests and focus groups, menu names and even selecting marketing schemes. â€˜We are always tweaking how we are delivering upon the customer experience,â€™ said Eugene.
He also emphasized the importance of marketing the school foodservice program. The school nutrition program many times bears the brunt of negative press. He recommends that schools not only react to the media, but also utilize media as a tool to proactively educate parents and the community about the foodservice program.
Learning from Peers
Panelist Tony Geraci, foodservice director for Baltimore City (Md.) Public Schools, discussed his district’s new 33-acre Great Kids Farm at the â€˜Creating Buzz with Successful Partnershipsâ€™ general session. The farm serves as a farm-to-school project for the district’s 83,092 students, where they may learn hands-on about where their food comes from.
Great Kids Farm is a self-sustaining organic farm that provides students with the opportunity to learn and expereince the entire field-to-fork process of growing, distributing and cooking healthy, nutritious food. â€˜We want to change the way child nutrition is approached in this country, and food is a place we can all find a common ground,â€™ said Geraci. â€˜This experience puts students closer to where food happens in their lives.â€™
Geraci also offers â€˜no-thank-you bitesâ€™ in the elementary school cafeterias. The premise behind the â€˜no-thank-you bitesâ€™ is to introduce students to new foods in order to broaden pallets, as well as gain feedback on new products. Those students who try the samples receive a star next to their name to earn the chance to participate in the â€˜constellation partiesâ€™ held at the end of the month. â€˜I love my job, I love being a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœlunch lady’…this is the single most important job in the country,â€™ said Geraci. â€˜We put healthy kids in front of educators, ready to learn.â€™
The day concluded with the presentation of the 21st Annual FAME Awards, sponsored by Basic American Foods, Schwan’s Food Service and Tyson Foods.
Check back daily for continuing coverage of the 2010 Child Nutrition Industry Conference from Ponte Vedra, Fla.