When you have a vended-meal contract, ordering food for school lunch can be a daunting task. You want to make sure you have enough food, but not so much that you have a large quantity of leftovers. Finding the sweet spot for ordering takes practice and also awareness of student preferences.
Here are some tips to help manage food orders and food waste.
Opt for Offer Versus Serve (OVS), instead of Serve. OVS enables students to decline items they do not want, while still taking a reimbursable meal. You can order more of the items the students like and less of what they don’t like. Broccoli not a popular item? Decrease your order while increasing for bananas if that is your student population’s preference!
Look at how many meals were purchased the last time you served that particular entree. If it’s time to order burritos, look at the production record for the number of meals served to forecast how much you should be ordering this month.
Talk to your vendor about new items for entrees and see what is possible within the limitations of your contract. The answer is always “no” unless you ask!
Talk to the students! Student surveys or focus groups are great ways to get honest feedback from the people who eat the school meals day in and day out. See what they like or dislike and get feedback on the options available and quality of the product.
Work with the staff that serve the food to get feedback and ensure that paperwork is being completed properly. Ask for ideas on how trends can be tracked easily so that ordering can be a breeze.
Get the students excited about school meals. The more students who participate in the meal program means more reimbursement for the school. While we do not operate these programs for the profit, it is important to try and maintain a fiscally sound program so as to not encroach on the General Fund.
No matter what style of service you have, what vendor you use. or if you are prepping food in-house, forecasting and analyzing trends will be your best bet when placing food orders. Not only will it keep you storage and refrigeration from being filled to the brim, it can help decrease food costs and food waste.
And always remember, communicating constantly and working closely with your vendor will give you the best results. Do you have any tips or tricks on ordering meals? We would love to hear them!