The three “R’s” (reading, writing, and arithmetic) have long been associated with basic education and schools, in general. For many School Nutrition Programs the three “R’s” can also easily be linked to Food Production Records. I am not referring to the need for fundamental education in order to complete these records (although, clearly that is a requirement). I am actually talking about the process steps required in School Nutrition Programs to manually manage Food Production Records.
Before I go further, let me hit the highlights of Food Production Records to make sure we are all on the same page.
Who: All Schools participating in school meal programs must keep detailed records for the meals they produce.
What: Food Production Records must show how each item (and meal) contribute to the required components of the meal pattern and nutritional standards for each grade group.
When: Food Production Records must be kept daily per meal service.
Where: Food Production Records are completed at the schools.
Why: Food Production Records help support monthly reimbursement claims and demonstrate meal pattern compliance. Timely and accurate Food Production Records can also serve as a valuable planning tool.
If you are relatively new to the School Nutrition world or if you train those who are, I highly recommend checking out lessons 7, 8, and 9 of the “No Time to Train” series available through the Institute of Child Nutrition (formerly known as NFSMI).
At this point you may be wondering about the three “R’s” – don’t worry, you haven’t missed them yet; I am getting there. Many School Nutrition Programs are still managing their Food Production Records manually. For those of you in this situation, you will readily relate to the pain points associated with the three “R’s” of Food Production Records (for those of you who are not in this situation, you may be shocked by what you are about to read).
Of course reading is associated with Food Production Records…there are words on the page, right? The reading that counts as the first “R” relates to reading numerous emails about the menu. As a cafeteria manager, you usually get an email that contains the menu.
Then you have to keep up with additional emails regarding menu changes to ensure that the day of service you prepare the proper items and serve the correct portion sizes. All it takes is missing (or misfiling) an email or two during the hectic school day and poof – your Food Production (and the Record of it) is off-track.
Yes, in the ideal world the menu never changes, but let’s face it, most of us don’t live in the ideal world. A million different factors can interrupt the availability of product and the supply chain thus impacting the perfect menus we plan. Not to mention that we are all human and can make mistakes everyone once in a while.
Pain point numero uno: Reading a ton of emails
Solution: Centralized Production Management software allows for assigning and modifying menus all from the menu planner’s desk without a single email! No more hoping everyone reads every email and then takes the appropriate action.
Writing is the second “R” in the three “R’s” of Food Production Records. Many School Nutrition Professionals still hand write Food Production Records. I don’t mean filling in the blanks with the quantities prepared – I am talking about handwriting every portion including each menu item name. <Sigh> Most states do have templates publicly available that can be used as a starting point such as this Lunch template published by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Handwritten Food Production Records are not only extremely time-consuming and prone to error, but talk about tough to use. Sure, you can read your own handwriting, but what percentages of others can read your writing? Not only does the cafeteria staff need to be able to read the Food Production Record, but so does Central Office Staff and eventually State Agency auditors.
Pain point number two: Writing records using actual pen (or pencil) and paper
Solution: Centralized Production Management software provides printable, pre-populated worksheets as well as completed Food Production Records. No more almost legible, handwritten records!
Perhaps the most painful part of manual Food Production Records is scaling standardized recipes for the quantity planned. Yes, people have to use the third “R”, arithmetic, to figure out ingredient quantities. For example, if I have a recipe that yields 100 servings but I am planning for 345 servings, I have some math to do.
Better break out the calculator and hope none of the ingredients are listed in tablespoons because then I am going to need to convert measurements as well.
As someone who has only been exposed to electronic Food Production Records until relatively recently, I can admit to wanting to cry the first time I was asked to manually scale a recipe (and for the record, it is not any easier reducing the recipe). If you have not had to do this before it is an exercise worth a little bit of time.
You will need a pencil, paper, a calculator, and a recipe that has at least four ingredients. Trust me, you will have a new appreciation and understanding of your counterparts that manage Food Production Records manually.
Pain point number three: Arithmetic required to scale recipes (we may love math teachers, but let’s face it – math isn’t likely the funnest thing you will do today)
Solution: Centralized Production Management software automatically scales recipes based on the number of servings planned. Shopping lists can be created as well as a recipe with just the right amount of each ingredient required. Put those calculators away!
Sometimes we are so used to doing something one way that we don’t see that the process needs improvement.
And even if we do recognize that things could be better, we may be afraid of the pain associated with change. The reality is the three “R’s” of Food Production Records are actually painful.
Worse yet, these manual steps in the process create opportunities for costly human errors, not to mention the labor hours used that could better serve your program in a non-clerical capacity.
I hope that this article has you thinking about the value of ditching the three “R’s” of Food Production Records (reading emails, writing records by hand, and using arithmetic to scale recipes).
Check our next article where we discuss what you should expect from your Food Production Management software.