School nutrition professionals run a tight ship when it comes to staying within their allotted program budgets. Between planning their menus to a T, double- and triple-checking their inventory, and counting and re-counting the money in the cashier drawer, it is absolutely necessary for school nutrition professionals to be fiscally responsible. In an effort to further cut operational costs and improve the efficiency of their programs, schools across the nation are utilizing satellite kitchens.

The Scoop on Satellite Kitchens

Satellite kitchens prepare food in an off-site location, then deliver the food to the schools at mealtime. KHON2 reported that these satellite kitchens are helping schools in Hawaii cut operational costs, while also ensuring that the schools are complying with all guidelines set forth by the Department of Health. By eliminating the staff and equipment used to run an on-site kitchen, Hawaii “saves around $230,000 per school” and a price increase on school lunches “was taken off the table”. Low-cost school meals and reduced operational costs makes for happy parents and happy administrators.

Of the 200 plus schools in Hawaii, 62 of them are currently utilizing satellite kitchens run by the Department of Education. Concerns have been raised, however, regarding the management of the satellite kitchens. Peter Oshiro from the Department of Health assures any skeptics that these kitchens are well-maintained and heavily regulated, just like any school kitchen.

“The Department of Education employees are very diligent, especially the cafeteria managers making sure food is really prepared,” said Oshiro. “So it’s very rare that we have any kind of problems

[or] incidents [in] the Department of Education kitchens.”

Oshiro also noted that these satellite kitchens are inspected twice a year, and are given special preference simply because of their clientele: the children of Hawaii.

Others have addressed concerns about the satellite kitchens’ proximity to the schools they serve, as prolonged transportation increases the risk for contamination and food borne illness. The DOE ensures worried parents or guardians that the distance is short between the kitchens and their serving sites, and that the food is kept at the proper temperature. In the end, there is really no difference between food prepared offsite and food prepared in the school kitchen.

Utilizing satellite kitchens may ease the financial burden on your school nutrition program, but what will happen to your current kitchen staff? Staff will still be needed to serve students, man the cashier stations and clean up, but their responsibilities will change…and so will their pay. Less hours preparing food means less hours working, causing huge pay cuts for these hardworking men and women.

Do you think satellite kitchens will become the norm for future states? Does your program currently utilize satellite kitchens? Why or why not? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comment box below!

Although each site is different, the guidelines for preparing, handling and transporting food from satellite kitchens are pretty much the same across the board. If you would like to read how Miami-Dade County Public Schools handle transporting food to remote sites, you can read their procedure report here.