It’s no secret that we are living in the digital age. No one is immune from the effects, even my 6 year old nephew uses a tablet to stay entertained and connected. I am not indicating that this transition is a negative thing, in fact, it is very promising for the school nutrition industry. In recent months we have been surrounded by excited school nutrition professionals who want to integrate new technology, such as tablets into their program. These school nutrition professionals are making the switch because they want to streamline their programs to make them as efficient as possible. Mobile devices like tablets and smartphones allow school nutrition professionals to attain greater efficiency by using them in inventory functions, lunch lines and much more. Throughout this post I will discuss the various areas that benefit from the use of tablets in the school nutrition program.
Tablets in School Nutrition

Benefits to Inventory Management 

Transitioning to tablets in your program has many benefits, one of which is easier inventory management. We all know what a daunting and meticulous task this can be, but thankfully using a tablet can resolve part of this issue. When utilizing a tablet for inventory you can completely forego paper. Instead of using count sheets to handwrite everything first and then later entering manually recorded into the computer, you can now bring your tablet to the storage area and directly enter your counts on the screen. Not only are you eliminating a step but you are also saving paper and reducing the chance for error. It is clear the use of a tablet in inventory management helps lessen discrepancies in a timely manner.

Benefits to your Breakfast and Lunch Lines

Using a tablet in the lunch line may seem unnecessary when you have computers that work perfectly well, but there are several applications where using mobile technology may benefit your serving initiatives. Some of these applications include the use of portable kiosks, overflow lines, and mobile carts. Mandy Young, software specialist with Mesquite ISD, deployed Windows tablets on kiosks across the district to help with grab and go breakfast. These portable kiosks can be set up for students to take advantage of at breakfast, allowing for a less crowded breakfast line. Mobile carts used in school hallways for grab and go items will also move some traffic out of the cafeteria. Overflow lines for specialty days, such as bring-your-parent-to-lunch-day, allow cashiers to create extra stations with tablets. This technology helps the cashiers move people through the line at their normal speed even during a busy day. Not only do tablets allow for the ultimate in portability, but the smaller footprint may allow for more items on the cart or serving area.
Tablets make it easy for those who serve traditional breakfast in the classroom to go from homeroom to homeroom using the classroom sale functionality. A common problem during traditional breakfast in the classroom is receiving inaccurate information from the teachers. Using tablets minimizes this issue by eliminating the meal count roster. In this scenario a cashier for the school nutrition program gains an accurate count of student meals consumed by using the tablet in each room. A transition such as this allows the data to be updated in real time and lessens the chance for errors.

Benefits to your Operation

With the rise in popularity of smart phones and tablets we rarely feel in control when we don’t have information right at our fingertips. I know I personally can barely go an hour without checking my smartphone for updates. The use of these mobile devices allows you to regain the feeling of control in your professional life. When you have a tablet or smartphone you can find important information at any given moment whether you are working from home or at a conference hundreds of miles away. For a manager, director, or supervisor the tablet is ultraportable and can be carried from meeting to meeting. In these meetings the school nutrition professionals have immediate access to student information, inventory, transactions, and much more. Any information the school nutrition professional may need will be easily accessible due to the portability of the tablet. Many managers, directors, and supervisors will utilize the tablet and its instant access to information as a monitoring tool for their organization.

Benefits to Student Eligibility

Accessing and entering data from student eligibility forms has never been so easy. A tablet’s compactness allows you to take it to back–to-school nights, PTO events or even round-up days where you can establish kiosk areas for parents to complete their student eligibility form. This serves as a reminder for parents to fill out the application but also allows them to do it in a quick and effortless manner. Once the forms have been completed online the eligibility program managers can quickly validate the applications. This allows the district to claim those student meals under their new eligibility in a more timely manner. The more quickly the application is validated the less headache long term for you and your program.

Benefits to Parents

Tablets don’t just make the lives of the school nutrition professionals better but they also make the lives of the parents easier. Using a tablet or smartphone parents can log in, make online payments and check student balances. If a mom receives a phone call from her child that there is no money left in their school account, she can rectify the situation immediately, no matter where she is. Even while on the go, parents have peace of mind knowing their student will have lunch today. Seeing the meal options available to their child each day is a benefit parents can reap by accessing the online menu via tablet. Some software even shows the parents what their child has recently purchased, allowing easy monitoring of the child’s nutritional intakes. Through the tablet parents can also set up account restrictions and automatic payments. These functionalities ensure that the parent is in control. All of these actions can be done at a moment’s notice, making the life of a parent a little more worry free.