By Cecily Walters 2015-06-09 10:14:15
The Hit List School nutrition professionals share some of the tools, equipment and technology that pass the test in their operations. Check the latest music charts, and you’ll find the most frequently purchased or downloaded singles or albums for a particular period of time. However, just because a song is popular today doesn’t mean that it will have a long run on the charts (or that the musician who made it famous will be around in five years—or even next year). But there are those songs, be they from one-hit-wonder artists or icons in pop music, that are just as appealing today as they were when you were in high school. That’s what truly makes them a hit. School nutrition professionals also need lasting hits in their kitchens and cafeterias. They need equipment that has the kind of staying power that can get the job done this year and beyond. School Nutrition asked a number of school nutrition operators to identify a few of the hit products that have made a difference in their programs, whether they help provide long-term solutions, allow for maximum efficiency offer peace of mind or, perhaps, a combination of the three. Equipped for Efficiency Brent Craig, SNS, Nutrition Services director for Douglas County School District, Castle Rock, Colo., reports that Taylor Company’s yogurt machines have proven to be a bona fide hit in his operation. As part of their efforts to be Smart Snacks-compliant, his team serves lowfat frozen yogurt at all grade levels—every day in middle and high schools and once per week in elementary schools (if the principals for the specific sites agree). Craig notes that the yogurt treat sells swiftly, while the machines help keep labor costs down. Vitamix blenders are at the top of Paula Pohlkamp’s favorites list. “This year, we purchased them for our secondary schools so they could make breakfast smoothies. The machines are easy to work with, and the students appreciate the smoothies at breakfast,” notes Pohlkamp, Nutrition Services supervisor for North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, St. Paul, Minn. Micheline Piekarski, SNS, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Oak Park & River Forest High School, Oak Park, Ill., recently purchased three Hatco panini machines (model #MCG20G). Students can pre-order online, and their custom sandwiches will be available for them to pick up at lunchtime. Linette Dodson, PhD, RD, LD, SNS, director of School Food and Nutrition for Carrollton City (Ga.) Schools, cites her operation’s positive experience with a reimbursable meal vending machine from Star Food. Two machines are placed in the high school—one in the field house to provide breakfast to student athletes and the other in the cafeteria, across from the serving area as an alternate point of sales, dispensing breakfast and lunch. “Both machines serve a delayed breakfast after first period. Overall, the addition of these machines has resulted in a 15% increase in breakfast participation at our high school,” Dodson asserts. West Hartford (Conn.) Public Schools has been expanding salad bar service to all schools throughout the district. Because the kitchens, cafeterias and serving areas vary from site to site, Nutrition Services Director Trish Molloy, RD, CD-N, relies on a selection of products from Cambro to make the salad bar service possible. The company’s ColdFest® insulated pans have proven useful if a school does not have refrigerated units. In this situation, “We chill the pans in the walk-in overnight, and they hold products chilled through meal service,” explains Molloy. Her team also uses Cambro food bars in its elementary schools that have a single serving line with no space for a salad bar. Camchillers®, large ice packs that fit inside the food bar for further temperature control, also have come in handy. Molloy reports that these products are “all very versatile and can be set up in a central location with no electricity needed.” Powerful Products Combi-ovens were mentioned by several operators interviewed for this article. “You get two pieces of equipment in one: a convection oven and a steamer!” declares Jennifer LeBarre, SNS, Nutrition Services director for Oakland (Calif.) Unified School District. “We cook chicken legs from the raw, and it has reduced cooking time by 10-15 minutes. Huge time saver!” she says. Carmen Fischer, MS, RD, LD, director of Child Nutrition Services for Rockwood School District, Wildwood, Mo., reports that her staff recently began using several RATIONAL combi-ovens. “The staff will put in a commodity turkey roast or pork roast at the end of the work day and allow the unit to cook overnight. They love that. It frees up oven space during the work day,” she recounts. The Alto-Shaam combi-oven receives high marks from the school nutrition staff at Harrisburg (Ark.) Public Schools, raves Child Nutrition Director Dolores Sutterfield, CDM, CFPP. She and her team find that the equipment saves time and labor and allows them to produce higher-quality menu items. “Now we can cook hot rolls, entrées and baked potatoes for 750 and have it all ready for service! [Previously,] we were cooking all these products with a double convection oven, and my staff was stressed trying to meet production [demands in time] for service. This one piece has really eased their load, and the students are winners with the products that we are able to produce now,” Sutterfield details. Produce Pizzazz With nutrition standards requiring increased servings of fruits and vegetables, it’s no surprise that operators have had their eyes on equipment that helps them to manage more produce preparation. To this end, Cambro lettuce keepers have been quite a find for Rockwood’s Fisher. School nutrition staff use lettuce choppers to cut green leaf, romaine, red leaf lettuces or spinach into consistent pieces. Then, the lettuce keepers allow for the storage of clean, chopped greens. Fruit and vegetable slicers from Edlund have been helpful in Mason City (Ohio) Schools, according to Child Nutrition Supervisor Tamara Earl, SNS, who has purchased them for all preparation sites. Sara Gasiorowski, SNS, Child Nutrition Services director for Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township, Indianapolis, says, “We use Sunkist Sectionizers to cut up fruits and vegetables in slices, sticks and wedges that the students find easier to eat and that help with food presentation. The Sectionizer saves time from hand-cutting and ensures portions of the same size.” Ekon-O-Pac’s system for bagging helps not only to prep grab ‘n’ go breakfast sandwiches but also snacks going to the classrooms as part of the operation’s participation in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. It also comes in handy for the summer meals program, says Gasiorowski. Another avid user of this convenient product from Ekon-O-Pac is Sandi Kramer, Child Nutrition Services supervisor for Yankton (S.D.) School District. She first discovered it at SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC). “My elementary schools are satellite schools, and we have a hot and cold pack system with limited refrigeration space,” she notes. Since using the economical system, Kramer has noticed a significant difference in the amount of vegetables going into the trash. Connie Little, SNS, Student Nutrition supervisor for Beavercreek City School District in Beavercreek, Ohio, says that she and her team “love” their heat-sealing machine (model #HS48) from Preferred Packaging Company. “When the new meal regs came out, the first thought I had was, it’s a lot of food and not much space to place on a five-compartment Styrofoam tray,” she notes. With a mission to find a heat-sealing machine that would effectively, efficiently and attractively hold a half-cup of fruit or vegetable, she attended ANC and discovered her solution. One simple, but important selling point? The dimensions of the machine worked well with her available space. Little enumerates the many benefits of the Preferred Packaging unit: “Each cup and ‘lid’ is only 3 cents. [Also,] it seals so well that fruit juice does not leak. Even leftover tossed salad easily can be served, with pride, the next day, increasing product shelf life. The containers [that come with the sealing system] all hold one half-cup of fruit or vegetable, so it’s easy for the student to know that they can have two of each fruit or vegetable, and it is easy for the cashiers to determine a reimbursable meal at the point of sale. The containers stack nicely on the students’ trays, too,” she says. The heat-sealing machine features a 12-cup template that the half-cup containers are set within, and the menu item is placed in the cup. The template is pushed along a track, and the film is heat-sealed on top. Little’s staff uses a box cutter to cut the film. “When we first started to do this, the students asked us what company we were getting the fruit and veggie cups from. The staff was so proud to say that they did that!” Little recounts. This was particularly affirming, considering that staff had some initial hesitation about the heat-sealing machine. Now, however, they discuss who “gets” to use the equipment, she reports. Talking Tech Products incorporating the latest technology also drew praise from operators. In Robbinsdale Area Schools, New Hope, Minn., Child Nutrition Manager Mary Betlach has been impressed by Nutrislice’s app for sharing nutrition information about her operation’s menu items. She and her team look forward to adding photos soon. “I think this will be helpful to our students and especially to parents. It’s a great way to show our customers the great work that is being done with planning and preparing the meals we serve. It also has an option for the customer to rate [and comment on] the food item,” she notes. This can be a tool for both positive affirmation and areas for improvement, Betlach adds. Chandler (Ariz.) Unified School District Food and Nutrition Director Wesley Delbridge, RD, also makes use of the same software and echoes Betlach’s impressions about the product’s value. “When we plan the menu, we go back and look at the ratings and comments submitted. Sometimes kids joke around, but most of the feedback is important and helpful. People like to rate things,” he observes. (Visit http://cusdnutrition.nutrislice.com to see another example of this Nutrislice product in use.) Frequent technology user Delbridge cites two other Nutrislice products that have made a huge impact on the day-to-day operations of his department. With the company’s Taste Test Pro app, students provide their feedback on iPod Touches when taste-testing potential new products, and the school nutrition team emails student feedback directly to vendors. He also sings the praises of digital signage from Nutrislice, which he plans to use in all of the department’s elementary schools after a successful pilot. Screens feature menu details and can be used to display other information designed to capture students’ attention, such as participation boosters and contests. “The participation contests that we do are all web-based. For example, you can do a March Madness contest to see what school eats the most fruits and vegetables,” Delbridge explains. His next project is to pilot a text messaging program tied into the digital signage. He envisions students texting answers to a question in order to win a prize. “Especially with participation in our high schools, texting is huge. It gives students a buy-in with our program,” Delbridge reports. In RSU #14 Windham Raymond School Department, Windham, Maine, School Nutrition Director Jeanne Reilly, SNS, has been excited about “an excellent addition to our mobile breakfast carts!” Dell Venue 11 Pro Tablets, which she purchased through Heartland School Solutions, work with her operation’s NUTRIKIDS point-of-sale system. “We have been wanting something like these for a while, and they have been essential in allowing us to ‘go mobile.’ We are loving the ease and portability of the tablet for mobile units, and the wireless capacity and the battery life have made our operation less ‘plug’ and more ‘play!’” she enthuses. In addition, Reilly has been pleased with wall-mounted digital display screens from LG Electronics. Her team uses these at the middle and high school levels to display menus, prices, calories and any other information they want students to know. Carrollton City Schools’ Linette Dodson is another Nutrislice fan. “The Nutrislice phone app for Android and iPhones has allowed us to show the nutritional value of the foods we serve and post pictures of our menu items. We use it as a marketing tool,” she explains. She also says that her operation is in the process of purchasing two digital screens from MealViewer for its high school serving lines. MealViewer uses a monitor to display menus, as well as other visual footage, such as school sporting events and the Weather Channel. Not only will it allow her to showcase menus, “But it will also help us entertain our students while they are waiting in line.” Now that you’ve read this article about new tools and equipment that will help you go the distance, are you excited to research the next new hits? Check out the ANC Exhibitor List (page 96), our monthly “On the Market” column (page 144) and advertisements throughout this issue for vendors whose products just might help you take your program to the top of the charts! Cecily Walters is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore., and a former managing editor of this publication. BONUS Web Content Sometimes, it’s not easy to find the product you really want. In an exclusive web extra, K-12 school meal operators shared a few of the items that top their equipment wishlists. Check this out to see if you’ve already identified the perfect solution or can help create demand for it with the product developers working in this business. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazinebonuscontent. Innovations and Inspiration Following is a list of the vendors whose products are mentioned in this article: ■ Alto-Shaam, Inc. www.alto-shaam.com ■ Cambro www.cambro.com ■ Dell www.dell.com ■ Edlund Company, LLC www.edlundco.com ■ Ekon-O-Pac www.ekonopac.com ■ Hatco Corporation www.hatcocorp.com ■ Heartland School Solutions www.heartlandpaymentsystems.com/School-Solutions ■ LG Electronics www.lg.com ■ MealViewer www.mealviewer.com ■ Nutrislice www.nutrislice.com ■ Preferred Packaging Company www.prefpkg.com ■ RATIONAL www.rational-online.com ■ Star Food www.starfoodhealthyexpress.com ■ Sunkist http://foodservice.sunkist.com ■ Taylor Company www.taylor-company.com ■ Vitamix www.vitamix.com
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