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Best Practices: Meal Service

Resource type
Training and Outreach

Children won't get the nutrition they need to learn, play, and grow, if the food doesn't taste good. This section shares with you ideas that creative sponsors have used to enhance the overall quality of the meals they serve.

Camp Lejeune Dependents School

Midway Park, North Carolina

Why switch from commercial to fresh produce? The school serving the children at Camp Lejeune discovered that buying fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables enhances meal quality and supports local farmers. The school worked with area farmers to set up a purchasing schedule, so that often, children could eat SFSP meals featuring vegetables that were harvested the very same morning. Food waste decreased and participation increased at the sites. The farmers were eager to see their business grow and help feed children in the community.

Contact: Jan Holt
Phone: 910-451-2133

Mt. Diablo Unified School District - Concord, California

In 1999, establishing a cost effective program and increasing participation rates were high priorities for the Mt. Diablo Summer Program. Some of their great ideas included: 1) mixing commodity foods with purchased foods (i.e., mixing commodity pears with a purchased mixed fruit) to maximize limited food resources; 2) baking cookies before school was out, bagging them, and storing them in a freezer for use during the summer. By doing this, Mt. Diablo did not have to operate its kitchen at full-capacity during the summer, it cut its cookie costs in half, and Mt. Diablo cookies tasted better!; and, 3) using clear plastic trays to serve SFSP meals. This minimized food waste because kids "ate with their eyes first" and ended up eating more.

Contact: Karen Candito
Phone: 325-682-8000 x4055

Office of School Food and Nutrition Services - Long Island City, New York

Most children participating in New York City's Summer Program agree that meals served are high-quality and tasty. In 1998, the program provided nutritious meals to about 200,000 children at over 1,100 sites city-wide during the summer. The success of New York's Summer Program can be linked to the fact that it: 1) served appealing meals to kids that fell within the USDA reimbursement rate; 2) formed effective and diverse partnerships within the public and private sector; 3) widely marketed the program in the community; and, 4) had staff members that fostered direct communication with program participants.

Contact: Denise E. Toulon
Phone: 718-729-6100

St. Mary Community Action Agency, Inc. - Franklin, Louisiana

The St. Mary SFSP relied on the support of the parish to keep the program thriving and encourage children to attend feeding sites. The church provided transportation to rurally isolated children who would have otherwise been unable to go to a site. Promotion for the program was done through church bulletins and announcements were posted outside the church on a community billboard. One activity included a teen summit which featured a grandmother who had lost a son to violence as the guest speaker. Sites were able to serve tasty, hot meals to kids all summer long. This was possible because the sponsor planned in advance (e.g., started early in the procurement process) to maximize healthy food choices for the kids. Children were given special treats which motivated them to continue participating in the SFSP. Serving safe meals was also a high priority of this sponsor. Staff from the local health department held a training for food service staff on safe food temperatures and preparation of food.

Contact: Almetra Franklin
Phone: 337-828-5703

Community & Economic Development Association (CEDA) of Cook County, Inc. - Chicago, Illinois

Serving healthy meals is a top priority for this sponsor. The sponsor prepares its meals at a central kitchen, the local high school, and distributes them to its satellite feeding sites. CEDA reviews school menus to get ideas for SFSP meals. All SFSP menus have been reviewed and approved by a registered dietitian to ensure that they are healthy and meet the 30 percent or less fat requirement of the American Heart Association. Serving the meals cafeteria style provides an additional opportunity to model good eating habits. A partnership with the University of Illinois Extension Service reinforces the good eating behaviors of the program through nutrition education activities.

Contact: Suman Sood
Phone: 312-795-8896

Parent Child Inc. - San Antonio, Texas

When the City of San Antonio was unable to obtain an acceptable bid for vended food service in 1999, Parent Child, Inc. stepped forward. They agreed to sponsor the 131 sites that were formerly under the city’s contract. This new sponsor relied on its experience as a sponsor of another USDA Child Nutrition Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, to effectively administer the Summer Program. This was quite a challenge because Parent Child, Inc. was under a tight time frame to get its four kitchens ready to prepare more than 7,000 Summer meals per day. It also needed to amend its food service contracts so it could purchase additional food.

To accomplish this, it formed a partnership with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Parent Child, Inc. agreed to prepare and deliver the 7,000 meals per day to the feeding sites and the Department of Parks and Recreation agreed to have its staff be the site supervisors, and to serve and clean up the food, after meal service. The program made history because it was the first time children in the city had access to hot lunches!

Contact: Blanche Russ-Glover
Phone: 210-432-7730

City of Tustin-Parks & Recreation - Tustin, California

The Tustin Summer Program responds to childhood hunger in its community by serving over 1,500,000 meals to at-risk children, at five feeding sites, on an annual basis. The Summer Program provides both nutrition education and an innovative solution to meet the growing need of the city’s hungry children. In 1998, it launched a successful week-long Summer Nutrition Camp that taught children about healthy eating. At the camp, children participated in Summer meal service and received lessons in nutrition education, cooking, and crafts through the Orange County Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, Cooking Up American History.

Contact: Gary Magill
Phone: 714-573-3332

Natchez Public School District - Natchez, Mississippi

Over the past 17 years, the Natchez Public School District has grown into a thriving sponsor of 6 sites. It attributes its success to using cycle menus which ensure that the nutritional requirements are met for all meals. Some of the benefits to using cycle menus are serving meals that are cost-effective and increased serving options for fresh fruits and vegetables. In 1999, Natchez kept its costs down though a weekly review of purchasing practices and food quotes, and by using reusable plates and utensils. Because it was also concerned about the nutrition of children, it served water to students not drinking milk to deter children from purchasing soft drinks.

Phone: 601-445-2997

Gadsden Independent School District - Anthony, New Mexico

Nutrition education is a top priority for Gadsden Independent School’s Summer Program. In 1999, it strived to help children grow and be healthy. A sponsor of 49 feeding sites, it recently adopted a "children first" approach. The approach emphasized that serving meals that are acceptable to children and nutrition education must be the overriding consideration in every program decision. To accomplish this, it established a Student Nutrition Committee of students, teachers, administrative staff and community members. The Committee’s goal was to upgrade the cycle menus to satisfy the dietary preferences of children and meet the nutritional requirements for the Summer Program.

Contact: Demetrious P. Giovas
Phone: 505-882-6771

Wichita Public Schools - Wichita, Kansas

The Wichita Public School commitment to improving the quality of Summer meals was an on-going goal. Staff worked hard to develop innovative menus that pleased students and exceeded the Recommended Dietary Guidelines for children. Meals were attractively packaged in black plastic boxes with clear hinged lids to appeal to the children. Both the quality of Summer meals and program efficiency have improved because of updated equipment which allowed timely meal service and the safe preservation of food, and staff training. Wichita food service staff attended a two-day seminar offered by the National Food Service Management Institute on purchasing. Their expanded knowledge allowed them to upgrade food specifications, examine nutrient content of foods, and select approved brands for bid packages for the Summer Program.

Contact: Sharon Carlson
Phone: 316-973-2160

Moundsville Housing Authority - Moundsville, West Virginia

The Moundsville Housing Authority Summer Program featured a diverse menu from around the world. Every Friday was Ethnic Day which featured exotic food, culturally diverse place mats, and signs and banners in foreign languages. The success of the Summer Program was linked to the role community partnerships and volunteers played in the program. It was able to procure food donations and food supplies from local businesses. The Moundsville Summer Program also recognized the value of fully understanding the needs of the community and the dietary preferences of kids. To improve the program, it recently conducted a community-wide survey to see how it could provide better service in the future.

Contact: Helen Hager
Phone: 304-845-4094/3141

Wolcott Elementary School - Wolcott, Vermont

The biggest challenge facing the Wolcott Summer Program was how to reach rural children since less than five percent of kids in Wolcott can walk to school. A critical component to the success of the program was establishing a centrally located meal site and providing transportation to these kids. Because children are more likely to attend all-day activities, the program created a free, day-long camp called "Summer Learning Camp." The camp also created job opportunities for local youth. At the camp, children were issued an around-the-world "tasting passport" which was stamped in the lunchroom whenever a student tried the entree of the day which was from a country the children were studying. Chef Greenia, who was both the camp’s cook and drama coach, treated the children to a play at the end of the summer and a banquet of their favorite dishes from around the world.

Contact: Merri Greenia
Phone: 802-472-6551

Pinellas County School District - Largo, Florida

In an effort to serve high-quality meals, the staff from Pinellas County Schools and Social Services met to review both children’s menu preferences and packaging problems that occurred during the previous year’s Summer Program. Staff from a local anti-hunger advocacy group were also invited to offer suggestions for potential feeding sites and sources for volunteer recruitment. The result: volunteers were recruited in the community and plans were made to purchase a machine that unitized meals in-house. The new packaging of Summer meals made them more attractive to children and helped to increase food safety.

Contact: Dolores Ford
Phone: 727-547-7155

Akron Metropolitan YMCS - Rotary Camp for Children with Special Needs - Akron, Ohio

Sometimes its the little things that mean a lot. This was the theme of the Akron Summer Food Service Program which served children with mental and physical disabilities. The program recognized that "the campers needed just that much more attention and care," so it served simple snack items that the children helped make. To encourage children to eat more and try new food items, the Akron Summer Program used a cheerful fox mascot, Munch, and the theme, Eat a Bunch with Munch. The menu also consisted of common foods that the children had not tried before. Campers who successfully tried 3 bites of 5 new foods received a Lunch with Munch award. Several staff members, who were visiting international students, also introduced children to new foods that are native to their countries.

Contact: Dan Reynolds
Phone: 330-644-4512

Page updated: July 08, 2024