Historically, school nutrition programs have experienced day-to-day operational challenges that have only been magnified by the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Operators are working overtime to strike a balance between the need to feed more students while coping with supply chain shortages and staffing issues.
Technology can help mitigate these challenges, so your program becomes easier to manage despite the challenges you face. But it’s challenging to find the funds for innovative solutions, even under the best of circumstances.
Did you know that the USDA has a grant to assist school nutrition programs? That’s where the Technology Innovation Grant comes in. In this post, we’ll discover more about the grant and how it can benefit your school nutrition program.
What is the Technology Innovation Grant?
School nutrition programs are eligible for the Non-Competitive Technology Innovation Grant (nTIG), and it’s available specifically to fund technology purchases. If awarded the grant, nutrition programs can use the funds for software, hardware, and training related to each.
Education administration technology has become more sophisticated in recent years, so there’s never been a more opportune time to upgrade your operation.
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What are the benefits of upgrading my school nutrition solutions?
Upgrading your operation with modern technology can improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of your program. Student participation could increase as well!
Here are a handful of benefits that our customers experience:
- Serving more students in less time
- Faster and easier meal applications
- Quicker orders
- Fewer mistakes and less need for data re-entry
- Simplified audit preparation
Let’s look at each of these potential benefits in more detail.
Serving More Students in Less Time
Serving hundreds of students in a limited time is an ever-present challenge. If you’ve heard from students, parents or teachers that some students don’t participate because of the wait time, serving students faster should be prioritized. Technology can help you make this daily process smoother and faster.
Cashiers can complete more transactions faster using barcode scanners for student identification. Photo mode is also convenient if offered by your software. When students come to the serving line in a predictable order, the cashier can tap a photo on a touchscreen monitor to complete the transaction. Both of these options help with forgotten PINs, and as a bonus, these are touch-free, germ-free options for students.
We have all experienced the devastation of losing the internet connection in the middle of meal service—this is a guaranteed way to slow down the serving line. Point-of-service systems that continue to operate when the internet is down will keep service at full speed.
Faster and Easier Meal Applications
In previous years, the processing of meal applications was the primary determinant of whether a student would take a meal. The USDA has temporarily removed this barrier, but meal applications and direct certification still impact your program and the finances of your school district.
Software programs that offer a built-in online meal application that is simple for parents to complete can make it more likely that a parent will complete the application. Software that makes it quick and easy to process applications enables staff to award benefits to students faster.
Another feature that can enhance your meal application process is automatic benefit extension. The capability of extending direct certification benefits to eligible siblings automatically will save time and help to maximize the number of directly certified students in your district.
Site managers spend considerable time preparing vendor orders on at least a weekly basis. Software programs can assist with this process by tracking on-hand inventory, planned quantities, upcoming deliveries and more.
Software programs can process the calculations from these variables so that your managers can spend more time managing their kitchens and serving lines. Some software programs and vendors even work together so that the order created in your school nutrition software is sent directly to your vendor – preventing double work is always worth considering.
At their simplest, computers are calculators, and software programs use this functionality to solve your problems. School nutrition software can remove tedious tasks from your list, like calculating grocery orders, editing checks, or performing menu analysis. You save you time and money by removing these from your to-do list.
In addition, using a tablet to record inventory can save paper, decrease the mistakes that occur when transferring numbers from paper to computer, and reduce the time spent on double work.
Simplified Audit Preparation
Audits only occur once every few years and can take all your staff’s time and energy. A software program that completes the menu analysis, stores ingredient labels, and rolls all needed information into one easy-to-use report packet can save weeks of work for your team and make your program look great!
Use the Technology Innovation Grant to upgrade your school nutrition solutions.
There are many school nutrition software programs available, and each functions differently.
If you are looking to invest in new software or hardware, be sure to inquire about all functionality before deciding which is the ideal choice for your operation. Plus, it’s a good idea to choose based on current functionality rather than potential future functionality.
Any feature that enables your team to save time on fixing mistakes, double work, or accomplishing tasks faster can help your program feed more students.
The Technology Innovation Grant is an ideal opportunity to upgrade your program’s technology. Reach out to your state to learn more about applying for this grant.
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