Previous posts in this series focused on the many benefits of statewide menu planning software from the perspective of School Food Authorities (SFA). Now it is time for us to look at the other side of the coin – State Agencies. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 made a number of changes to our industry norms, not the least of which was a shortened review cycle. Administrative Reviews (AR) must be conducted every three years per SFA as opposed to every 5 years required previously. This increases the workload of Reviews by 67% per year, eating away at valuable time. Additionally, more energy is required to conduct reviews since they audit a wider range of information. While it is not likely to revolutionize your entire life, statewide menu planning software can save State Agencies a tremendous amount of time and energy and thus greatly improve your work life!
Statewide menu planning software creates the ability to remotely review menus for compliance online. There is no need to wait until you are onsite for an Administrative Review to pour over paperwork at the SFA’s Central Office. Your time can be better utilized offering technical assistance to help the SFA improve their school nutrition program operations.
Some State Agencies currently have a process to review menu planning data prior to the actual AR. This process generally includes each SFA physically providing all relevant menu planning material (such as ingredient labels and recipes) to the State Agency. This process varies from state to state but may involve uploading scanned copies to a central location. In some states, SFAs must make photo copies and mail a big packet to their State Agency. As tedious as the information submission sounds, scanning or making hundreds of copies is actually the easy part.
What about the person on the receiving end of those copies? In order to analyze the material provided by the SFA, someone has to enter all of that information into software or the USDA workbooks. And you know what the kicker is? Each reviewer has to enter all of their data from scratch even if the same ingredient or recipe was used in another SFA that has already been entered by another reviewer! Since the most common menu planning software programs are installed separately on each computer, there is little to no opportunity to leverage common, or shared, data. Statewide menu planning software saves time by eliminating both the need for paper copies and duplicate data entry.
Statewide menu planning software allows all SFAs to be better prepared for their AR so that reviewers do not spend so much time tracking down missing labels and providing technical assistance for non-compliant menus. Menu planning software can alert menu planners when their menus are not in compliance so that they can make adjustments long before an AR is scheduled. SFAs don’t have to wait to learn in an AR that they are 10mg over on sodium if they are using a program that analyzes their menus ahead of time. Fewer problems results in time saved for reviewers!
Once ingredient data is verified in a statewide menu planning system to ensure accuracy, the same ingredient data can be used in many SFAs with no need to re-verify that information. Therefore, energy is not wasted repeating verification tasks that were already conducted by another reviewer (or that you have already done).
Utilizing the same system throughout the state allows reviewers to focus on the data, not how the data is presented thus saving energy for reviewers since they do not have to learn the nuances of various programs and reports. Training for reviewers becomes easier when everyone only has to learn one system.
Providing Technical Assistance for SFAs using a statewide system becomes easier and more manageable because the person offering assistance is well versed in the software utilized at the SFA. Common terminology makes conveying remedial procedures or concepts easier and quicker. Additionally, specific assistance can be offered based on the particular SFA’s data rather than in general terms that may not be as helpful.
Benefits that save time often save energy and vice versa. When it comes to menu planning software the real key is shared data on a grand scale. By providing a statewide software system, State Agencies can leverage the power of shared data to increase their AR efficiencies, saving time and energy, thus creating a win-win situation for SFAs and State Agencies alike.
Focusing on the mutual benefits of a statewide menu planning system helps gain support for this innovative solution during the implementation process. Even if you have full authority in your state to require that all SFAs use software that you provide, buy-in is a critical piece of the puzzle. I hope you will join me next time as we discuss how to avoid the “Big Brother’s Watching” perception when providing helpful software to your entire state.