5 Tips to Grow Your K‑12 Nutrition Program in the Midst of Challenges 

Learn five ways to support the growth of your K‑12 school nutrition program, despite challenges.

Planning school nutrition using tablet

The challenges faced by every child nutrition program in the last couple of years aren’t going away any time soon. Supply chain issues, labor shortages and inflation will continue to be obstacles that K‑12 nutrition programs will need to overcome. It’s hard to imagine being able to maintain your program, much less plant seeds for its growth in these times. But we are here to give you hope! The resilience that school food service workers and their partners have shown in recent years is proof that with the right things in place, anything is possible!

Tip 1: Practice Open Internal Communication

Communication is a necessity in any organization, but especially in child nutrition, where flexibility is the name of the game. Getting your team to trust you and buy into your initiatives – such as finding greater storage space for products/ingredients you now need to buy in bulk – only happens when there is open, two-way communication. This also allows your team to feel comfortable offering solutions to problems they face on a regular basis. 

Tip 2: Innovate Your Menu Planning 

Menu planning is an essential part of any nutrition program, but it is a major challenge when you aren’t able to find the ingredients you need, or have them delivered on time. The School Nutrition Association offers ideas to be innovative with your menu planning by: 

  • Forecasting future needs as much as possible and communicating them to your partners so that they can plan for an accurate volume. 
  • Adopting a menu cycle that includes products/ingredients that can be stored in large volumes.
  • Selecting ingredients/products that can be used in multiple ways across your menus.
  • Placing your orders well ahead of time. For example, if you receive weekly deliveries, place orders three weeks in advance. 

Tip 3: Find Strength in Collaboration

Working together has been the key to success in the last couple of years. Teams have had to collaborate, both internally and with external partners, to navigate the challenges and changes that have come their way. Especially when it comes to serving meals to students, employees from different departments have lent a hand when it was needed. Bus drivers, for example, finish their morning route, help out in the cafeteria service line, and then continue on to their afternoon route. This kind of collaboration and support does wonders to bolster not only efficiency, but also employee morale. Collaboration in the business of child nutrition reduces employee burnout, improves performance and increases employee retention. 

Tip 4: Increase Participation with Marketing 

A successful marketing and promotion plan can increase your program participation. After all, you work hard to create nutritious meals for students each day – you want them to enjoy them! 

Marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. You need to create greater awareness of your program amongst your school community. It can be as simple as involving students and their families to be a bigger part of the program. For example, encouraging students to come up with menu item ideas or inviting families in to share a meal with their students can go a long way towards building enthusiasm with your program.

Tip 5: Cultivate a Community Culture

The hustle and bustle of the school year can be a bit overwhelming for everyone, from students and parents to your school food service staff. Make an effort to cultivate a community around your cafeteria. Get to know your staff, and let them take the time to do the same with students and faculty. Invite grandparents to eat with their grandkids and look for volunteers to participate in lunchroom monitoring. Creating opportunities for connection will go a long way in helping your program grow, despite any challenges. 

Plant Seeds for the Growth of Your School Nutrition Program 

With a new school year underway, make decisions with the growth of your program in mind. Be innovative with your menu planning and increase participation in your program through creative marketing. Cultivate a community culture around your cafeteria and work together to help your program thrive. Our team of experts – former school nutrition professionals – know what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Find some of their ideas in our Back to School Guide, Here We Grow Again, and make this your most successful school year yet.