The School Nutrition Services team is a vital part of the school district. PTAs can support them by learning more about how the programs work and the regulations of school meals. They can engage with the director about needs school nutrition may have, including equipment or training. PTAs should position themselves as partners with the food service team and they should work with the school nutrition services team to identify how they can work together.
PTAs may assist the school nutrition services team by organizing and implementing taste tests, providing information to parents about meal programs, or partnering with school nutrition to offer healthy foods at PTA meetings or events like Back to School nights. PTAs can host a School Meals Night that highlights menu options to both students and parents and promote events like National School Lunch Week. Utilize the School Meals Leader’s Guide to partner with your school nutrition services team and to support healthy school meals. Ensure your PTA is familiar with the Smart Snacks guidelines by reading the PTA’s Guide to Smart Snacks. The Institute for Child Nutrition is full of resources for the school nutrition team including recipes and training videos.
A recent study found that food service teams desire more training in understanding the new nutrition standards and compliance for school meals, basic cooking skills, and administrative processes. Additionally, a majority of school food authorities (88%) reported needing at least one piece of equipment. It is important to ensure that the food service team’s needs are met so they are not hindered in their efforts to prepare and serve nutritious and appetizing meals.
Assessing the food service training and equipment needs will help your school meals team identify possible resources to help increase food service capacity.
How to Assess: Talk with your food service manager about their training and equipment needs. This can be an open conversation rather than a structured questionnaire.
From the conversation with your food service manager, he/she should feel that you are not there to critique the school meals but rather to serve as an important partner to the school meals improvement effort.
Tips for framing the conversation in a positive manner, include:
- Arrive at the conversation with an open mind, putting aside preconceived notions about the cafeteria, food service team, and school meals.
- Explain PTA’s commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles and healthy schools for every student and that you understand school meals are a major component of student health.
- Explain the school meals initiative and what it would consist of (i.e., assessments, action plan development, implementation, and evaluation).
- Give the food service manager an opportunity to discuss the challenges he/she is facing before discussing possible solutions and ideas.
Consider These Strategies:
- Help your food service team gain additional training or food service equipment to ensure their school meal efforts are fully supported.
- Identify grants that your school may be eligible for and help your food service manager complete the application. See if there is a parent or community member who is a successful writer and can aid in the grant writing process.
- Organize a fundraiser to help purchase food service equipment.
- Ask if there is an additional role the PTA and families can fill during meal times that will allow the food service team to focus their efforts on providing school breakfast and lunch.
USDA’s Team Nutrition Schools resources page provides training resources for the food service team.