Flexibility has been the name of the game in K‑12 schools in the last few years. This is especially true in child nutrition. Labor shortages and supply chain issues have exacerbated the challenges that food service workers across the country have always been grappling with. A flexible, can-do attitude is what has been behind the success of school nutrition programs everywhere. Cultivating a positive, empowered work culture is what makes it all possible.
In the second episode of “The 4 C’s Behind the Business of Child Nutrition,” a four-part video series hosted by NextUp, school nutrition professionals discuss the impact of culture on the daily operations in food service. The discussion is moderated by Shannon Soloman. Shannon is a former competitor on the Food Network’s hit show, Chopped, and an innovative leader in the K‑12 school nutrition industry. Culture and its effect on the daily decisions of food service directors is at the center of the episode’s discussion which covers everything from creating menus to ensuring the highest nutritional value for students.
Creating a Culture of Empowerment and Autonomy in Child Nutrition
People want to be able to feel like they can be themselves, and do what they do best, at work. Allowing space for food service workers to be creative can yield inspiring results. For example, experimenting with new ingredients or creating a better way to move students through the service line. Creativity is the backbone of innovation! According to a Gallup poll, having the ability to use their natural talents and abilities is what employees really want. It helps create an environment where people want to come to work. It also creates one where students will want to come to eat.
Working Together Towards a Shared Goal
It’s no secret that collaboration in the workplace has a number of benefits. Working together is important for any organization. It helps by improving employee morale, reducing the possibility of burnout, and even increasing your bottom line. In school nutrition, the main goal is to feed kids nutritious meals, and that is the focus of every team member. Katie Cossette, Director of Nutrition Services for Englewood Schools in Colorado, gives an example of how her team works together to ensure students receive a seamless food service experience. “If the POS doesn’t work, just feed the kids. We’ll get through it. Write down numbers, write down names, but at the end, you have to make sure it’s seamless for them.” With everyone focusing on achieving a common goal, even the impossible feels possible. And what goal is more important than feeding hungry kids?
Increasing Child Nutrition Program Participation
Students who have a satisfying experience in their school’s nutrition program are more likely to participate. And participation in school meal programs lead to a multitude of benefits for students’ growth and performance, including better attendance rates, fewer missed days, and better test scores.
One frequently overlooked factor is that their satisfaction depends on more than just the food they are served. In fact, food service staff behaviors play a significant role in student satisfaction. Smiling at students, demonstrating a positive attitude, working well with other staff members—these are simple things that positively impact students in a big way. In any organization, an employee’s attitude is a reflection of the organization’s culture. Students want to be in an environment that’s welcoming and positive. A welcoming environment goes beyond simply increasing school nutrition program participation. It ensures that students are being fed the nutritious meals they need to fuel their learning for the day.
Continuing to thrive in the face of constant challenges in school nutrition has not been easy. Yet food service workers have been able to make it happen for their students. That can-do attitude is the foundation of the culture of service in which they work. Supporting and recognizing the work they do is also a critical factor in improving retention. Creating a culture where team members feel empowered and everyone is working together ultimately yields success in the driving force behind school nutrition programs everywhere—feeding hungry kids so they can have the best learning experience possible.
Listen to the full NextUp episode here and check out our additional resources on The 4 C’s Behind the Business of Child Nutrition.