Start the School Year Strong with Healthy Meals: A panel with industry experts
Revolution Foods webinar with a panel of industry experts who address maximizing school meal participation, USDA waiver guidelines, and best practices for the upcoming 2021 – 2022 school year.
Kirsten Tobey, Co-founder and Chief Impact Officer, Revolution Foods
Cynthia Jerez, Executive Director, Mission Preparatory High school in San Francisco
Mark Welch, Regional VP of Operations, Revolution Foods
Anna Severns, Senior Manager of Nutrition and Compliance, Revolution Foods
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0:00 – Introductions
4:00 – School meals as whole child education
08:04 – Meal access through different federal programs
12:22 – USDA waivers SY21-22 FAQ
18:54 – Use case, Mission Prep (Waivers)
20:02 – USDA waivers comparison
26:49 – SSO eligibility
27:35 – Breakfast implementation strategy
32:49 – Use case – Mission Prep (Breakfast)
36:13 – Supper implementation strategy
40:35 – SSO and CACFP FAQ
42:06 – Managing supply chain challenges
46:22 – Reopening tips
48:15 – Procurement waivers
4:00 – School meals as whole child education
KIRSTEN: What do you think about food being a part of whole child education and which meals of the day are particularly important if any, and what role do you see the school in playing in terms of nourishing kids?
CYNTHIA: Yeah, I think everyone who is here cares a lot about children, right? And our roles are inter-connect or intersect, and we can’t do our job well if kids are hungry. It doesn’t matter how many resources. It doesn’t matter how many experiences we try to create. How we support our teachers to professional developments. If the child is not getting enough food and access to food it doesn’t matter. That barrier right there just really just is the biggest barrier to really being able to create community. Is, unfortunately, the food sparsity that a lot of our childrens [sic] are faced in the food insecurity. So I, looking at this not only as a social justice issue, as an equity issue, as an anti-racist issue but really as a humanitarian issue. I think that we know that food is important. We know not all of us have experienced hunger but I think that’s a privilege to say that, and I think in a country that’s so rich with so many resources, children going hungry just keeps escalating and (staggering) and we learned that when we closed so abruptly and our children didn’t have a hot meal. So I come to this very humble as well because my children and my students both at the high-school level and the TK to eight level have taught me a lot about how responsible they feel when there is no food at home. So to me, to that end it’s every single meal matters. The way that we provide those meals matter. The care that we provide that meal with matters and obviously how we spend our resources which is our money, our funding to meet that need really matters, and it’s our job to keep providing it just the way that we provide great academic experiences too.
MARK: Absolutely, Cynthia said it all through the process there but working in school support services for years and also being in a classroom as a teacher for a period of time. It’s highly essential we provide our children nutrition they need to succeed. When a child comes to school and they’re hungry they can come in late, they can be rowdy, they can be disruptive and yes, it does take a little bit of time in the morning but to make sure each child has a nutritious meal, their attendance goes up, on time goes up, their cognitive learning ability goes up. A hungry child can not focus on what the teacher is presenting. They cannot learn the TEKS objectives. They have a very difficult time interacting. So by doing breakfast in the classroom or doing other activities. Both supper and lunch, and things of that nature making sure that child has what they need to be successful and giving back in the community. A lot of us our blessed to be in a community where it’s not a concern or our children may have breakfast at home but a lot of our children that we serve every day in these schools do not have access to that environment. This maybe one of the only three meals they get during that day period and it’s our job to make sure as good community citizens we give back and make sure they have the nutrition they need to succeed. So for me it’s a personal goal, a personal endeavor and having worked and done a case classroom with special education students I know how important these meals are to those students and their ability to be successful, and seeing them develop, and their smiles on their faces is rewarding in itself. Does take a little bit of time but it’s well worth it just to make sure those children have a good smile and they learn something that day and retained it.
08:04 – Meal access through different federal programs
KIRSTEN: So I know Cynthia we’ve talked a little bit about the approach that you’ve taken to meals in your school environment and it’s a unique approach with not just thinking about the kids every day but also really reaching out to families. So I’d love to hear you just share a bit about what approach have you taken to making sure that kids can access the meals that they are entitled to through all the different federal programs and what impacts you’ve seen, and how hard it’s been, and maybe challenges and successes that you’ve seen in the process.
CYNTHIA: First, I think one of the biggest things is that this is not my first rodeo with Revolutions Foods. We actually partner with them in Boston and I come from 15 years of experience in Boston. And moving into a new vendor and also getting our families on board. I think one of the biggest challenges we faced as I became a school leader was that our families were also putting down the meal program. So we needed to educate families. We needed to really experience this journey with our students. We needed to give feedback and real-time feedback and responsive feedback that we were getting from students and from families. But once we got the community on board Revolutions Food actually hosted a couple of meals for us including our (sword of) justice night, right? We really do center around the social justice need to have food accessible to everyone and they tried the meals. And having those conversations with parents. These are some of the things that your children are experiencing every single day. The food line, the experience in the cafeteria, the actual meal itself. We were able to get our students to start eating lunch. We also turned a lot of our work and focus into breakfast in the classroom. Where we were talking about nutrition. We were exchanging obviously if kids were coming with sugary drinks we would exchange it for something healthier. We were really looking at food in the classroom and breakfast in the classroom as a way to win not only building community but also to reducing incidents in the morning. We all know that most incidents happen between that 8:00 to 11:00 AM before lunch is served because hunger is a factor. We actually really worked really, really hard on ensuring that we had that environment of a family meal or a community meal where students actually wanted to be at school on time because they didn’t want to miss out on the social interaction and the social time.
And that was also driving through like, “Hey, we’re gonna try this new meal. We’re gonna try this new thing.” Definitely the challenges of hey, if you told them that it was a hot breakfast and it was Tuesday but Monday was a holiday, and that hot breakfast did not arrive. You had plenty of people complaining. They’re still little kids. They know how to exercise their rights. So that’s also really important. And apologizing when things don’t go right, right? And, “We were supposed to have pancakes.” I’m like, “Yep, owe you pancakes.” and getting back to our vendor and saying, “Hey, so what happened to the pancakes this morning?” or “What happened to the cinnamon sticks.” or whatever it is that we had promised the kids because they were that attentive that it was a cold meal then it was a hot meal and they wanted that routine, and I think that’s really important because we bought into it as a community. We educated teachers. We talked about wellness champions. We had wellness champions in every grade level and teachers really committed to ensuring that their students were eating, right? Whether they were bringing breakfast from home or they were having breakfast at school, we monitor and track that and we saw a reduction in incidents in the morning. We saw more students arriving to school on time. We saw parents more engaged with the eating habits of students and a decrease, right? In the stigma that we have of picking up lunch because Boston did actually move into a free program for all students and that allowed us to serve all students in a more equitable way.
KIRSTEN: That’s great to hear. I mean the idea of sort of de-stigmatizing the going into the lunchroom and picking up a meal is so important and I think interestingly with the current USDA waivers that are out there that environment is enabled in a much more robust way than it has been in the past where schools have had to go through CEP or other processes to make sure that they can feed all kids.
12:22 – USDA waivers SY21-22 FAQ
KIRSTEN: So Anna, turning to you as our technical expert on the panel. I know that the waivers were passed during COVID and I think a lot of people thought of them that these were waivers that were passed in order to get through the kids being at home and doing distance learning and that sort of thing but several waivers have continued through the current school year with schools being largely open and in-person full-time. So can you just walk us through what the waivers are, how schools can utilize them and what impact that can have on actually serving more meals in a day than what was previously passable?
ANNA: Yeah, definitely. So I think that the best news just like you said a lot of schools are re-opening but the food service departments are kind of still in flux on how we’re going to feed all these kids. So the best news is that we are still able to provide four meals at no cost. I’m sorry. Three meals and snack at no cost to the students and they are going to be fully reimbursed by the state and federal governments. So in order to do that it’s the best way that we can think of and that many organizations are recommending is by going for breakfast and lunch. It’s important to apply for the seamless summer option, the SSO. And the reason we recommend opting for the seamless summer option versus the regular NSLP option is kind of two-fold. One is that with using SSO, all meals are at the free rate and in addition they’re at the higher rate, the SFSP free rate. So the schools have the option of continuing to serve meals through NSLP but they’re not going to be able to get that higher reimbursement rate. And then the other reason that we’re really encouraging schools to opt for the seamless summer option is just for ease of operations and for administrative burden ease. So with the seamless summer option you’re still able to do the tally system. So whereas with the national school lunch program and the breakfast programs if you weren’t a CEP school you’ve gotta go through the traditional line of the point of sale where the kids are entering in their numbers. They don’t have to do that with the seamless summer option.
It is important to note that the summer food service program which was available to community organizations is no longer an option for the school year this year. So seamless summer option is the way to for breakfast and lunch and then thanks (Laura) for bringing up this visual to go along over the other side getting in that snack and that supper. The way to go there is CACFP at-risk after-school programs. And the reason for this is that these programs can continue in tandem with the seamless summer operation with the waivers in place. And the best news is that weekends are available to serve students the snack and the supper. So whereas breakfast and lunch can only be served on operational days of school that the after-school meal programs can be served seven days a week regardless. There is still that enrichment activity or that education piece that needs to accompany these after-school snacks and suppers but there are so many resources online and USDA has said that online resources, coloring worksheets, or anything like that can be used. So that shouldn’t be an issue.
The other thing I want to mention in terms of getting these three meals and one snack into our student’s bellies is that if you are a school and you aren’t already participating in the CACFP at risk after school program for snack and supper and for whatever reason you’re not able to apply. Whether the deadline has passed or you just don’t have the bandwidth. Something that is really encouraged is to seek out other already established community organizations that are sponsors of these programs. One of the great waivers that are still in place is the waiver that eliminates the on-site monitoring. Which is usually a pretty big deal with the CACFP operations and so even if you’re not located in the same city as an established sponsor you can still kind of go under the umbrella. A lot of YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs are sponsors. Interestingly I heard on it was a no kid hungry webinar just a few weeks ago that there is actually a YMCA in Michigan that has just gone above and beyond and because this on-site monitoring is waived they’ve been able to… They are I believe in Southern Michigan they’ve been able to pick up empty locations across the state all the way to Northern Michigan because of the waiver for that on-site monitoring. So I would say the three meals and the snack is incredible and to really be able to take advantage is great news.
18:54 – Use case, Mission Prep (Waivers)
KIRSTEN: Thank you, Anna. And I think importantly the weekend meals in such an important part of being able to make sure that we can have a lot of control over what we’re serving to kids during the week days when they’re at school but being able to send food home over the weekend for kids and families is just a huge impact that we can have to battle food insecurity on a daily basis so kids come back to school Monday really ready to learn. So Cynthia have you utilized these waivers in your site and what’s been your experience with them just from an administrative perspective?
CYNTHIA: Yes. So last year we were very lucky to have a great team and partner to create meal in a box for seven days. So we were able to quickly pivot to that and had not only an increase of parents and students picking up but also we’re able to support the nutrition program throughout the entire year. So even though we came back in-person in the spring we were able to continue all the way through the end of the school year by using the waivers to provide meals so the students were able to get meals to take home. To provide that snack after school because not everyone was able to come back. So I think one of the biggest things that we want to challenge ourselves is not to lose sight of all the learnings that we did have having to react so quickly to a pandemic and I think one of them has been front and center that we are a resource for our community as a school building. So we need to ensure that we’re able to meet those needs across the lines.
20:02 – USDA waivers comparison
KIRSTEN: Great. Anna, can you talk a little more about how the waivers that are in existence now are different from may have been in place when were in a more remote learning environment and also maybe talk a little bit about I know we’ve seen some schools who have been able to utilize the waivers to offer fruit, and milk, and things like that to kids who are bringing their lunch from home even. So if you could talk a little bit about these changes in the waivers and kind of what we’re seeing in terms of best practices.
ANNA: Yeah, for sure. I would say there has been almost I think we’re up to a hundred USDA waivers and extensions. So there’s all kinds of information that has just kind of gone, and gone, and gone. So I would say there are two really important things to note of the key waivers that have kind of changed a little bit in the last 18 months. So the first one I touched on previously is that SFSP, the school food service program which was last year, the community organizations were able to provide meals to students. That’s not available anymore. So the summer seamless option is available. The difference though with the summer seamless option is that weekends and holidays aren’t allowed. So summer seamless option can only be when schools are in operation. Even if kids are learning remotely from home on a Friday that’s still covered by the seamless summer option. So I think that’s the most important thing. Is that for breakfast and lunch weekends aren’t available at no cost any more but the good news also is that the SSO meals are reimbursed at that higher SFSP rate. So that’s a wonderful thing.
The other thing to really keep in mind and the biggest change for this coming school year for the waivers is that meal pattern waiver. So whereas in the last 18 months the meal pattern waivers have kind of been available for whatever was needed. Whether it was a supply chain issue, a storage issue, a food safety issue. The USDA has put out language that they’re trying to push schools back to a gradual push to normalcy. They use words like justified and targeted in their memos. So meal pattern waivers have to be approved on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes previously you could opt into any of them and they could go for the whole year but now there has to be a start and an endpoint, and there has to be a very justified reason. Also, the reasons for applying for the meal pattern waiver are now much more limited. So in terms of what I think a lot of schools will be dealing with, the first one you can still apply for is a vegetable subgroup waiver. Has to be targeted. It has to be justified. So a good example that I can think of when applying for this vegetable subgroup waiver is because we can only do SSO and NSLP. So we have to do the vegetable subgroups. But if your school for whatever reason had to switch to shelf-stable meals there really isn’t an available dark green vegetable that’s available as a shelf-stable option. So that would be a reason to apply for that vegetable subgroup waiver.
The other justified reason to apply for these meal pattern waivers is related to serving a particular age or grade group to the certain age-grade groups. I just repeated that. So for example, if your school is still doing curbside pickup where a parent can come whether their kid is at the elementary school, the middle school, or the high school. If they come to the middle school and they want to pick up meals for all of their kids traditionally you would have to if one student was in kindergarten or first grade they would need the K-5 meal grade group and then if they were in high school they would need the 9-12. But you can apply for a waiver to say the majority of our students in this district are in middle school. So we are going to serve all students besides 6-8. So that is still available for schools. So it has to have a start and an end date but it is a possibility.
And then the other justifications for applying for the meal pattern waiver are related to sodium targets. So if you remember last spring there was a little bit of legislation on initially we had reduced the sodium targets down to target one so that it was easier for schools to kind of ease into it but that rule was vacated and target two sodium targets were reinstated. Which is much lower. So if your school is struggling to meet those targets you can apply for a waiver for that reason. A side note and I think an important note for any partners or potential partners going with Revolution Foods. All of our meals are already target two. So that justification isn’t required anymore. So it’s really the vegetable subgroups and then the age-grade group requirements that are gonna be the two that are pretty important. And I know I think we’ll probably talk about this later. The supply chain issue is still a huge issue. The labor shortages are just running rampant. But at this time the USDA hasn’t said anything about potentially lightening those meal pattern regulations. I know big organizations like School Nutrition Association are pushing really hard to try and get that flexibility back but at this time it’s still pretty stringent. So I’d say those are the two major changes for the waivers to consider.
26:49 – SSO eligibility
KIRSTEN: We have a related question to some of these that just came from a participant asking about is the SSO option only available for enrolled students or is it anyone under 18 as the summer food service program is?
ANNA: So for the summer, the SSO, there are subcategories. So there is the closed enrolled and the open. So if you are approved to be an open SSO site, any child in the community under 18 can come and pick up but if you are a closed site it is limited to only enrolled students.
27:35 – Breakfast implementation strategy
KIRSTEN: Mark, I know you’ve talked a lot about best practices that you’ve seen about breakfast and different ways that schools can implement breakfast programs. Breakfast after the bell. Breakfast in the classroom. Just excited to hear thoughts and stories that you have about how to implement these programs, how to roll out breakfast. How do you get teachers on board? How do you get custodial staff on board? There’s obviously a lot of different interests in keeping the school day smooth and safe. So maybe Mark if you could start and then Cynthia I bet you probably have some good insights on this also from your experience.
MARK: Well absolutely, but the most important thing to remember is two things here. One, each school is an individual and the process flow must be approached individually to meet what that school needs and customize it. And two, the end goal here is to help the children and the community have the nutrition they need to be successful. We start with those two items in mind and then talk to the teachers, the staff, the custodians. Talk about the benefits that it’s going to provide to the children. How it improves their cognitive learning ability. How it improves their ability to pass on standardized processes, things of that nature as well as attendance visits to the nurse’s office. There are so many great things that occur when you feed students. We approach that, talk to the teachers about how it benefits the classroom, talk to them about the implementation of the process and different ways of doing it as well as the custodial staff and any ancillary support. So that we have a solution for the issues that they may have. Whether it’s a concern about bugs in the classroom. It’s (ways), things of that nature that can all be addressed and have been done in thousands of schools across the country, and then look at the different ways that a school can implement breakfast in the classroom.
It can be a traditional breakfast service in the classroom where the staff is bringing it out to the individual classroom. The meals for the day and the students are coming in before the bell rings that are consuming them during the enrollment call for the students or something of that nature. It can be a variation [inaudible]. Several schools have been highly successful doing a grab-and-go from the cafeteria. Every student comes to the cafeteria in the morning when they arrive from cars or buses, they go through, they pick up their breakfast, they go to the classroom, they consume it and they dispose of the trash there accordingly. It can be a grab-and-go in the hallway. There’s a lot of variations to it. And even schools that are having that kind of difficulty can do a second chance breakfast where a student comes in and missed either meal service. They always have the opportunity to go back to the cafeteria or have a meal delivered to a classroom because that nutrition is such an important factor in the cognitive learning ability. So, there is a lot of variations there. The easiest one for most schools to implement is either traditional breakfast in the classroom with it being served in each classroom for the teachers and students or the easiest to implement from a labor standpoint and lack of difficulty process would be the grab and go either through the cafeteria or a grab and go through a cart or ancillary device somewhere in the hallways. Where the kids say in ninth grade can grab it, or kindergarten, or variation, and there is no one correct approach for every school. It’s up to that school community to look at the options. Look at the benefits for the children. Come up with the best approach and even implement a variety of them. And if a school is hesitant or the teachers are hesitant I have found if you find a champion. Say one grade level, first grade. You implement breakfast in the classroom in first grade. See how it goes, work out the kinks and then let the teachers ask to participate and grow the program to second, third, fourth grade accordingly. The main benefit is making sure these children have access to a nutritious breakfast that will enable them to pay attention to the teachers and what they’re learning, and improve their home life.
‘Cause, what they eat at school also correlates to the type of products and items they will consume at home. They might not have vegetables and fruit at home but we serve them fruit every day for breakfast. They may go home and change the buying habits of their household to improve everybody in the community. So there is more to this than just making sure they have a meal at home. We are teaching lifelong eating habits as they start in elementary school all the way ‘till they get through high school and then they move on to college. So our role in this is to make sure they have the nutrition they need to succeed but it’s also modeling the right behavior and the right items for them. Does it take a little bit of time? Yes. Are there challenges to overcome? Yes, but when we explore and look at the benefits that they’re going to obtain, it’s an overwhelmingly yes to implementing the program in most schools, and most teachers will be right on board with it ‘cause they joined education to change a child’s life, to change the next generation’s life. And this is a tool in their quiver to enable that to happen not only every day they’re in that classroom but every day when they go home ‘cause we’re changing their eating habits.
32:49 – Use case – Mission Prep (Breakfast)
KIRSTEN: Cynthia can you tell us about what forms of breakfast you run in your schools and maybe how that’s changed with COVID, and how kids are eating, and where and how they’re accessing breakfast food at different grade levels?
CYNTHIA: Yes, so just like Mark said, I think every school has to create a plan that works for them and that grade level. I think we’ve tried all types of modality that you mentioned, Mark. And I’m like, “Yep, we did that.” but definitely during COVID, we did have students pick up breakfast because we were eating mostly outdoors. We had the luxury of having a campus that allowed us to eat mostly outdoor [sic] so students didn’t have to eat in shield. This year since we’re all back in the building and it’s a smaller building we all have shields and we’re eating in the classroom. We’re having our teachers support students with the shields coming up and making sure that they’re coming in, grabbing that tray in the classrooms, and sitting down to have breakfast. But definitely, the challenges are there. I think it’s also listening to the teacher. Listening to the custodial staff. Creating like if you go to kindergarten right now you will see obviously San Francisco, we have really strict rules around compost and recycling. So every bin has the carts, and the tray, and the milk carton because they need that visual to be more tangible versus middle school is like, “Okay, we know what we’re doing.” But really being in tuned to the cleaning crew and their feedback, right? “Hey, we can’t throw milk through the sink because it’s gonna curd and it’s gonna smell bad versus the milk bucket.” So you’ll see the red milk bucket to pour. All those things and challenges can be overcome but it does take that whole collective support and I think one of the biggest things that we’ve really been good at is as soon as I walk into a new building or join a new community is like, “So, who is your wellness champion?”
It really is a big, big effort but it’s just so rewarding because people are like, “Okay, now we can talk about food. We can talk about other spaces of wellness.” Not only nutrition. Let’s talk about sports. Let’s talk about what we’re doing for the community and how we build that space is through that one person that is consistently like, “We’re holding this meeting. We’re holding this space. We’re talking about meals. We’re looking at the data.” What are the days the kids are eating? Obviously, the times we see that is when hot breakfast is served they flock to it, right? And I think that in a lot of our communities, especially in the (Latin-ex) [sic] community we don’t really eat cold breakfast. We eat a lot of hot meals at home in the beginning of the day. So that cultural piece and bringing that in and rise affirming also warps into this space, right? And creates that cultural competency for teachers and also models it for other students.
KIRSTEN: Yeah, I love how you’re bringing in the concept of making sure that the approach to the food both from the menu and hot versus cold, and how it’s packaged. All of those things are so important to make sure that it feels familiar and accessible to kids. And that’s always been a focus of ours at Revolution Foods. Is making sure that the menu and the format works. And sometimes serving hot breakfast in a classroom can be challenging but it’s always great to see the results when we’re successful.
36:13 – Supper implementation strategy
KIRSTEN: So shifting gears a little bit to supper. We haven’t talked as much about after-school supper. And maybe sort of similarly Mark you can start and then Cynthia we’d love to hear your thoughts on best practices and supper. And this is obviously like an after-school meal. It’s not a meal served in the school cafeteria always. But just curious to hear thoughts and best practices, Mark on how to best roll out supper and what you’ve seen be successful.
MARK: Absolutely. It’s very similar to doing a breakfast program but it’s really, as Cynthia would say, building that community support within the school and within the team that is implementing the supper program. When it’s done in the school it’s usually traditionally to support classrooms, tutorials, and activities, but having that option whether it’s hot or cold depending on how you do it to make sure every child has access to it, communicating out to the parents and the community but then having that community wellness team that Cynthia mentioned implementing the supper program. Whether it’s bringing meals outside to where there’s an activity going on on a soccer field or something of that nature. It’s taking meals down a hallway. It’s making ease of access to the students or if it’s a meal that is going home or being served outside, doing a unitized meal. Like grab and go supper, something of that nature. It makes it real simple for the children to participate and still have the nutrition they need. Whether they’re consuming it in the cafeteria, an alternate location on the campus, or even at home depending on how the setup may occur. Again, it’s one of the most important meals of the day to make sure those child [sic] have nutrition. And to be honest the children that are not having breakfast are not probably having supper at home either. So making this available to them using the waivers where applicable, community partners, using tutorial programs, YMCA partners, enrichment tutorial groups, and having them facilitate whether it’s a hot meal in the supper program or it’s a grab and go. If we just provide a unitized grab and go for these programs every day at every location it makes it really easy for the implementation process and the service model.
And of course, you have to address will there be increased trash? Do you have refrigeration to store the meals? Things of that nature. But those are all operational challenges that the school operations teams and Revolution Foods are prepared to assist with and help find a resolution for. But again, as Cynthia mentioned it’s all about building that community, getting that support structure in place, having everybody understand the wellness message, and then living up to the message that we are preaching to the children, that we are sharing with the staff, and if we want them to embrace it we have to model it. And the only way to model it is to go out and try it. Some things may fail. Some things may be successful. But usually, it’s very easy to implement a unitized cold supper program immediately to get it off the ground and then you can go into hot or various options. And Cynthia, I’ll turn it over to you.
CYNTHIA: Yeah, we didn’t get to play as much with the supper program because our after-school program did provide a meal, but we were not able and then we went into COVID most recently. But I think one of the biggest things looking at this year and how we’re planning this year is the intentionality of ensuring that that meal is available for family. [sic] Right now for us the grab and go works best, right? Because we’re trying to minimize parents having that extra step or having to serve at school because of the space constraint. But it’s like literally, you’re building community and… So we might have an activity for parents to do or questions for them to respond to at the dinner table and it allows them to also create that habit of we’re eating together and we’re looking at something together, and we’re answering or responding to an activity together. That ties back to you’re part of your community whether you’re here or you’re at home. And I think that’s one of the biggest things, right? We’re saying to a parent we’re trying to meet this challenge that you have. If you’re working late we want to make sure that there’s something ready for the student so that there’s not six, seven hours between their lunch and their supper. Which is really critical.
40:35 – SSO and CACFP FAQ
KIRSTEN: “Can an SFA that participates in both SSO and CACFP at-risk provide meals and snacks through SSO and CACFP at risk to each participant and do the programs have to be operated at the same site or different sites? Can participants pick up multiple meals at once?” So a few questions in there but maybe you can just talk through what is possible with those combined programs, and where can the meals be served, and how can they be distributed?
ANNA: So for the final part of that question about the multiple meals at once. The non-congregate waiver, and the mealtime waiver, and the parent pick-up waiver are still in place. So bundling all of those meals is still an option. In terms of can both… What was the other part of the question? SSO and CACFP at-risk provide meals. They can work in tandem. So normally SSO and at risk are opposed but they can work together and anyone can participate in all of those programs. And the other part of the question?
KIRSTEN: Do they have to be at different sites? It sounds like you’re saying they can operate within the same site.
ANNA: Exactly, yep.
42:06 – Managing supply chain challenges
KIRSTEN: So shifting gears again to a hot topic of the times. Which is supply chain. I know anyone who is involved in food these days is talking about supply chains and supply chain shortages. So Mark, I mean we’re all reading the headlines about schools facing back to school supply chain challenges and that these disruptions are unprecedented and are affecting everyone from restaurants, to distributors, to hospitals, and everything in between. I know everyone I talk to these days is talking about it. So do you have tips for schools and food service directors, and folks in the school foods space that are navigating these challenges?
MARK: Absolutely. The biggest tip is number one, communication as always. Communicate with your suppliers and vendors. See their timelines. See what’s happening in their facilities. They are all undergoing severe constraints. Either the way that they operate due to COVID to ensure that we do not have a spread or contact and two, they seem to be experiencing severe staff shortages. Which I know many of you are as well. And getting employees who want to come to work, are dedicated and will show up every day. So when they communicate to you or vice versa you get a feel for their lead time. Do they need three weeks, six weeks, six months? Have they shut down production of a certain item? Many vendors across the country are producing a plethora of items for child nutrition but they are removing the variety because they don’t have the ability to meet demand or the raw ingredients. So they are producing one item. An example would be a massive vendor in the industry, Schwans is only producing cheese pizza at the moment, a personal size. They discontinued production of pepperoni pizzas. So there’s a wide range there. One is communicate. Two is forecast. Provide them you estimated demand. Let them confirm they can meet it. Whether it’s going through a third party supplier such as Sysco, US Foods, LeBatt, whoever it may be. Again, that communication process and then being flexible. A vendor may not have product A but they have product B. Does it meet your specifications, your health initiatives. If it does it may be a good alternative. So flexibility and communication go hand in hand. And then also if you have a facility or you have anywhere you can produce going back to basics. Bring in the raw ingredients to make your own sauces, building your own wraps, things of that nature. If you’re going a different route building it on site making it from scratch is always a great alternative. Raw ingredients seem to be out there in an ample supply. It is a skilled labor to turn them into products that we want to use and how we want to use them that is the difficulty at the moment.
MARK: So communicate. Forecast your demand. Where possible, look at alternative specifications or raw ingredients to change the paradigm. We’re doing the same thing here as we produce. We’re working with the vendors. We’re going through the process and we’re having to adjust to what they can provide when they can provide it. And unfortunately probably 50% of our vendors have either extended their lead time on production, especially for our fresh ingredients that are extremely healthy or they have shut down the line completely and they can’t provide it, and we’re going to alternates and sourcing them every day. Just over-communicate this environment and make sure they follow through and know what you need.
46:22 – Reopening tips
KIRSTEN: So I think that I would be remiss in not saying that Revolution Foods is here as a resource for anyone who is looking for support. I know that we have because of our size and scale, we’ve got great relationships with our suppliers. We’re not without our challenges but we’re happy to help through this challenging environment. Whether it’s short-term or longer-term. I do want to start the wrap up here on sort of a best practice note, and Cynthia, would just love to hear your reopening for the school year and have a lot of experience working in many different types and places of schools. Just any tips that you have for school leaders out there as we’re opening into this next school year.
CYNTHIA: I think other than wearing the COVID hat that we’re all wearing now as school leaders and just school personnel and help. This is part of your health plan, right? Nutrition, and wellness and access is huge. We need to build stamina again. We need to build routines. We need to build our capacity and not only our capacity for us to best serve students but also our collective capacity for students to be in the building. So if they’re not actually consuming real food and consuming good nutrition they’re not going to have that stamina that we need in order for them to successfully transition back. So I think the best practice is listen to your students. I think they’re the experts. They’re the ones consuming these meals. Ask questions. Reach out to the resources that you have. Thank you Christina ‘cause I met her randomly on a visit that she was doing to our site and I’m like, “I know we can do better.” and I’m new to this community. This is what I’ve heard from my parents. It’s what I’ve heard from students and her and Brad are just on the ground every single day trying to make this better as we also try navigate challenges with you name it. Our facilities, our electricity. So I think for us is stay flexible, right? We’re saying be like water at mission prep this year.
CYNTHIA: Stay flexible. There are things that you’re going to be able to change. There are things that you need to live with, but continue to get offered that feedback. And yes, over-communication sometimes is best because at the end of the day what you’re doing is doing it for kids. And I think they need us to be better advocates for the needs that they have.
48:15 – Procurement waivers
KIRSTEN: “How can SFAs make use of procurement waivers?” Is that something Anna or Mark, that one of you can weigh in on? On the procurement waivers.
MARK: I’ll weigh in from a high level and Anna can go for more detail. In most situations on the procurement waivers, one, we try to avoid using them at all costs because we want to provide a complete nutritious meal, but you can look at alternatives if say your dairy cannot produce milk. Which is something we experienced in some of the different areas of the country last year. There is shelf stable and then there is alternative fluid sources that could be approved or if you’re doing let’s say grab and go baby carrots. You get bulk carrots or if you’re doing a family meal box instead of doing individual carrots you do a one pound bag of carrots and things of that nature. The best way to use the waivers is target them to things that are actually difficult to obtain, will have the least interruption to your meal program and your nutrition format, and are the items that are hardest for you to serve and pack out. So if there’s something that is difficult use the waivers in a targeted nature. So you have the least impact on your presentation and on your nutritionals, and that you keep the meals as fresh, as healthy as possible. But use them if you need to go with a shelf stable item, you are having a sourcing issue, you can’t obtain the fresh item, feel free to use those in any way possible to supplement your program but only where you cannot provide the full enrichment activity. As far as the individual regulations and process flow that you gotta go through ‘cause each state’s a little different on that process. Anna can probably weigh in on that in more detail, but as long as you work with your education department, your department of agriculture right now they are very flexible and they are fluid in their responses, and they are able usually to provide an alternative solution, and we are also here to assist and help people in that process where we can. We have a plethora of knowledge and we’re here to share it. Anna, did you have a more detailed description you wanted to share?
ANNA: Yeah, Mark I really liked the high level that you just gave and I would say I think in addition to… I think the question might be about the emergency bids. And so I would say we’ve definitely participated in a lot of schools that aren’t going after… They’re not renewing their RFP. They’re kind of going an emergency bid direction. I am not quite an expert in that department but we have a bids and contact department that has a ton of information about that part of it I would say.
MARK: Thank you, Anna. And yes, in regards to emergency bids and things of that nature if you’ve gotta get product the waivers are in place. They have been very cooperative in emergency situations where you need to change vendors, procurement, things of that nature. So use the waiver, implement it and again, over-communicate to your state representative what your needs are and how to resolve them in your locality, and then reach out for assistance when you need it. It all goes back to communication. Everybody in the country is focused on food insecurity and making sure the children have the nutrition they need to be successful. No one is there to get in your way. Use the resources. They’re here to help and we’re here to help as well.
ANNA: Just one more note and just kind of piggybacking on Mark. What you said about the state agencies. I think that over the last 18 months that’s something that I’ve learned that I’ve become most comfortable with. Is contacting your state agency. I used to be as a service director kind of intimidated by them ’cause they ran the administrative reviews and they always made me very nervous. But that’s one thing that I can confidently say that contacting your state agency, I can’t emphasize it enough to be in communication there. They’re responsive and ultimately they’ve got the same mission as us of getting as much food as possible to our students and our children. So I would echo Mark’s sentiment about always contacting state agency just to make sure you’re on the right page and they may have ideas they’ve heard from other districts.
KIRSTEN: Thank you for that, Anna. Well, I just want to say I really appreciate all of your time. Anna, Mark, Cynthia, and thank you to all of our listeners and participants here. We at Revolution Foods are here as a resource whether it’s answering questions about the waivers. Which we have learned a lot about over the last 18 months or whether it’s helping out in a pinch on a supply issue. Please feel free to reach out to us. Our website is www.revolutionfoods.com and you can fill out a contact form there. Really excited to jump into this school year with all of you and thank you so much for spending the time with us this morning.
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