Posted by Patrick Maness
It’s safe to say that most people who open their own restaurant or enroll in culinary school don’t do so because they were inspired by what they ate in their school cafeteria.
In fact, in most cases, it’s the opposite. Their aim is to get as far away as possible from the production-line style of serving food. Fair or unfair, most people do not have positive memories of their school lunch program. It’s not just the indistinguishable slop people shudder to think about, either; nutritionists have frequently spoken out against the simple carbs, fats and sugars that are used to fill up as many kids as possible.
But this is changing. Across the country, school districts are improving the quality of the food they serve. Not only are they addressing nutritional concerns, but they are also working to make these healthier school lunches taste better than before. While many cafeterias are looking to professional chefs and restaurants for help with this, many in the food industry — from concept restaurants to gastropubs — can take a cue from how cafeterias operate.
Consider the fact that school cafeterias must deal on a daily basis with the same concerns at the front of every restaurant owner's mind:
Picky eaters – If there’s one thing you can say about kids, it’s that they are picky eaters. Menu planners are constantly challenged to create a varied menu that has something everyone will want to eat.
Changing regulations – From sourcing ingredients to food storage and preparation, managers and kitchen staff must work in a heavily regulated environment.
Public scrutiny – It’s not just the kids who see these meals. Parents scrutinize them for health reasons and the public wants to know just where their tax dollars go.
A variety of diet requirements and restrictions – With the rise in food allergies, schools need to prepare special meals as well as ensure ingredients like nuts and wheat do not cross-contaminate these meals.
Reducing food waste – In order to both cut cost and run greener operations, school cafeterias are continually exploring ways to minimize the amount of food they throw away. In this series, we’ll explore how school cafeterias are improving the food they serve as well as their equipment and operations — topics that apply to everyone in the foodservice industry. The blogs will include:
Big-name chefs moving into roles at school cafeterias
What was the motivation for a Michelin-starred chef from Copenhagen to take on a new role with a company called Brigaid, which is recruiting chefs to work in school cafeterias? We’ll look at their mission to give more care to school lunches in order to make school dining a positive and healthy experience. We’ll take a look at other chefs who are now employed at daycares and schools. What are some reasons for this shift? What are the rewards for the chefs and what are some of the top challenges they face?
Total cost of ownership (TCO) and energy-efficient appliance considerations
Understanding the TCO life cycle and how it relates to buying equipment is important when running a school cafeteria. With tightly controlled funding, one needs to choose equipment that will maximize efficiencies and cost, a key challenge in any industry. What are the main factors in understanding the TCO in equipment? How can kitchen equipment affect utility costs, save workers time and reduce labor costs?
School kitchen design ideas
We’ll explore how equipment and kitchen design can increase student participation in school lunch programs. For example, we’ll look at how to create choices for different meal types and incorporate self-serve options. The unique challenges in creating a kitchen design for a school kitchen and how to work within a government-funded budget will also be considered.
Cafeteria serving essentials
We’ll provide a helpful list of items you will need to create a friendly serving experience. We’ll look at the essentials for grab-and-go menu items, serving stations and dinnerware that won't break.
No matter what sector of the food industry you’re in, you’re sure to find some inspiration and ideas in these blogs to improve the efficiency and quality of your business.