The Power of Collaboration in the Business of Child Nutrition 

Learn about the power of collaboration in the business of school nutrition and how food service workers can work together to ensure success.

Collaboration in child nutrition

The 4 C’s Behind the Business of Child Nutrition Series

School nutrition teams have arguably one of the most important jobs in K‑12 schools. Feeding thousands of students every day isn’t easy! Especially in these last couple of years, we’ve seen that it truly takes a village to meet the needs of each child. Districts have experienced school closures, labor shortages and supply chain disruptions. They have had to harness unprecedented flexibility, creativity and collaboration to overcome the challenges they have faced. 

To highlight the teamwork and effort that takes place behind the scenes in school nutrition programs, NextUp hosted a four-part video series. In the first episode, “The 4 C’s Behind the Business of Child Nutrition,” Shannon Solomon, an innovative leader in the restaurant business and K‑12 nutrition industry, leads a discussion amongst school nutrition professionals. They talk about the various ways they collaborate both within their teams and with outside partners to support their teams and make sure students are fed consistent, nutritional meals. 

Internal Collaboration 

Collaboration within your team is not only key to success, but also a major factor in determining job satisfaction. Recent research shows that teams who collaborate report lower employee burnout, greater performance, and increased employee retention. Given the challenges faced in schools today, increasing retention is enough of a reason to encourage collaboration. 

The biggest thing for collaboration is to realize that you are not alone in this.

-Shannon Solomon

Working With Other Departments Within Your District  

A group of people coming together to work towards a common goal is a strong motivator. It creates a sense of community that impacts how employees feel about an organization. It also increases the likelihood that they will remain a part of it. In fact, companies that focus on fostering a community culture see a 77% decrease in resignations. That sense of community is created when employees from different departments come together for a common goal. Together, they make sure that students are getting the nutritious meals they need. Bus drivers standing in a service line when there aren’t enough substitutes, superintendents coming in from central office to lend a hand. These actions send the message to students and their families that their needs really are a priority. 

One of the discussion panelists, Roy R. Pistone II, shares how the team in his district in Inverness, Florida, worked together to make their program a success. “Collaboration for us in our district is not just amongst ourselves, but other departments. Specifically collaborating with transportation, they were fundamental in us getting that food out to the community when schools were shut down. If we’re short on people, which most of us are when it comes to labor, we have bus drivers who will finish a morning route, they will come help us serve when we can’t find substitutes, then go back to transport our kids.” Pistone is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services for his district.

Collaborating With Outside Partners   

Networking with partners outside of your organization is a tremendous learning opportunity and a way to work around unavoidable challenges. As one of the panelists of the series’ first episode says, “We’re so focused internally sometimes that we forget to reach out.” (Jessica Shelley, Director of Student Dining Services for Cincinnati Public Schools Ohio). During the pandemic, nutrition directors from around the country reached out to one another for support. They brainstormed ideas and they made sure students were fed. 

In addition, many districts partnered with local farmers and restaurants to work around supply chain issues and labor shortages. In Shelley’s district, Cincinnati Public Schools, establishing partnerships with local food banks, the YMCA and recreational centers was key to making schools a one-stop-shop for families. “Families could pick up meals for their kiddos. They could also pick up a family box of produce, dry goods or household items that were supplied by our community partners.” Shelley said. 

Looking for ways to connect with fellow school nutrition advocates outside of your organization? There are a lot of groups on Facebook where food service workers can share ideas. National Farm to School Network or School Nutrition Professionals are just a couple of examples. Joining one of these groups is a great way to be the first to learn about networking events and volunteer opportunities as well. 

Especially during challenging times, we need a reminder that working together is an efficient and creative way to problem solve. Feeding thousands of students is a huge undertaking no matter what is going on. Yet school districts have demonstrated that, by harnessing the power of collaboration, anything is possible. 

Learn more about the 4 C’s of Collaboration 

Download chapter one of the series.