How schools can increase student participation and meal count with today’s flexible equipment and technology advancements
About The Author: Jim Klimt is the Vice President of Sales for the Institutional Segment at Duke Manufacturing, a privately held, global foodservice equipment manufacturer.
As the end of the school year draws closer and students are dreaming of summer vacations, food service directors and operators in K-12 and higher education institutions are focused on their current food service equipment and looking for options to better equip their operators and maintenance personnel with the right appliances and serving systems to enable their menus and increase meal count while feeding their student guests.
Recognizing the critical nutrition school meals provide students every day, the current administration provided over $50 million in grants for schools to invest in new food service equipment in October 20221. Educational and institutional food service equipment managers are still dealing with energy consumption, budget and time constraints, food safety and waste management issues, labor and staffing issues combined with proper training, menu variety, and equipment limitations.
Addressing these challenges requires a proactive approach, and there are now food service equipment solutions taking shape with many new age benefits to keep the more than 30 million students2 fed daily, lunch staff and maintenance personnel need to be equipped with this latest technology to save time, money, and energy.
Serving Systems For a Flexible Tomorrow
Just as it was when we were students, K-12 schools have traditionally used a cafeteria-style serving system, where students line up and select their food choices from a range of options displayed on a counter or serving table. However, with school meal programs facing increasing labor shortages, food service directors and operators have been left scrambling to determine equipment availability and other alternatives3, in which flexibility has been the underlying theme surrounding new age serving systems.
With school faculty continuing to preach flexibility in the number of daily food options available, food service directors and operators need to be in agreement in terms of having different display merchandisers and well appliances that support this variety.
As today’s food serving systems are designed with this flexibility in mind, food service directors and operators can now customize their serving lines based on food variety to meet the specific needs of their students. For example, serving systems with streamlined hot and cold temperature capabilities allow the serving staff and maintenance personnel to configure their serving lines in multiple ways, whether it be sticking with the traditional cafeteria-style lines or implementing self-serve and grab-and-go stations. For example, the use of hot, cold, frozen, and switchable display merchandisers also provides menu flexibility to schools, in which these temperature capabilities can empower serving staff to expand their menu offerings. This ultimately allows schools to adapt their serving lines to changing student needs, such as increased demand for grab-and-go options or the need to support individual packaging and sanitation measures in a post-COVID environment.
Shifting this focus on food safety and waste management, today’s K-12 food serving systems are also better-designed to minimize leftovers and be easy to clean and maintain, not only in preventing the spread of foodborne illness, but also in eliminating excess water that can be contaminated.
Solving School Food Equipment Water Problems
With the maintenance of a well-functioning food service operation in and educational or institutional setting is no easy task, one of the most common issues today that many food service directors and operators continue to struggle with is water-related equipment problems. A floor drain is a common method to remove the water in the kitchen or behind a school serving line, but some facilities do not have a floor drain, or the lineup has changed so many times since it was installed that operators struggle to transport the water. Which makes it challenging for maintenance personnel to eliminate the water and prevent any sediment buildup.
One solution to water-related equipment problems in K-12 institutional settings is to implement waterless well appliances. Waterless wells are designed to replace traditional steam wells, which use water to generate a heating blanket. Instead of using water, waterless wells use a calrod heating element to create hot air, which is then circulated around the well to keep food at the right serving temperature.
Waterless wells offer several benefits over traditional steam wells with the most significant being cost savings. As waterless wells require less energy to operate than traditional steam wells, the appliances result in saving roughly 70% of the costs that it would take to operate traditional steam wells. Additionally, waterless wells are more energy efficient than traditional steam wells by not using water to generate steam, which can help K-12 schools reduce their overall energy consumption and environmental impact.
Although there is still a level of training needed to properly use and maintain waterless wells, they are generally easier to maintain than traditional hot food wells through the use of easy-to-learn touchscreen controls with low, medium, and high pre-set temperatures. Despite still requiring regular cleaning to ensure peak efficiency, cleaning is much faster thanks to removable non-stick liners. By implementing serving system solutions, like waterless wells, K-12 food service directors and operators can move forward in a cost-effective and energy-efficient situation.
Looking Ahead to the Future of School Food Service
Now understanding that food service directors and operators want the flexibility in food service systems combined with saving costs and energy through serving solutions, such as waterless wells, it’s important to remember that efficiency and functionality are of the utmost priority, not only for the serving staff and maintenance personnel overseeing operations daily, but for the students who want an enjoyable and clean eating experience.
That being said, once summer comes to an end and hundreds of students are back in the cafeteria lined up for lunch, the staff and maintenance personnel will be hoping their directors and operators makes these much-needed changes to set them up for success with increased revenue in the long-run.