It’s no secret that school nutrition programs across the country must operate on tight budgets. It’s absolutely incredible to me how, with extremely limited funding, school nutrition programs still find a way to serve healthy and delicious meals to the future of America day in and day out. We’ve shared plenty of blogs in the past with the theme of saving money in your child nutrition program – such as getting students involved with your program in order to save money, cutting costs through inventory management, and utilizing offer vs. serve. But I’d like to share a few more tips to help your program cut down on expenses, to truly get the most out of your operations.

Utilize the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

In 2014, one school district’s lunch fund deficit reached the dangerously high amount of $201,000. To combat this and help the school save money, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program operated by the Department of Defense was a real saving grace. The Pioneer Valley Regional School District Assistant Superintendent Gail Healy, who also serves as the district’s food serve director, heard about this program and applied to participate in the 2014-2015 school year. In the district’s first year of participating in this program, the district received $2,748 worth of food; in the second year, $3,500.

This year, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District received $5,100 worth of food to be shared between three school sites. This will, in turn, help the district cut their deficit by 2.5%. And, in addition to saving money, the students have access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables they may not otherwise experience outside of school.

If your school is interested in enrolling in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to save money and provide students with healthy, fresh produce, team up with your state agency to apply on the FFVP website. For the application, be prepared to submit:

  • -The total number of enrolled students and the percentage eligible for free/reduced price meals
  • -A certification of support for participation in the FFVP signed by the school food service manager, school principal, and district superintendent
  • -A program implementation plan that includes efforts to integrate the FFVP with other efforts to “promote sound health and nutrition, reduce overweight and obesity, or promote physical activity”

Be mindful of energy costs.

Restaurant owners have come up with a number of ways to save money in their operations, especially through efforts to save energy. A cafeteria serves as a ‘restaurant’ for students at school, so school nutrition programs can effectively utilize some of these money-saving tips. The Balance suggests switching to energy efficient light bulbs, which can save up to $22 per bulb per year, which can contribute to great savings over time. The Balance also suggests only running the dishwasher when completely full, turning down the thermostat, and investing in energy efficient appliances. And, to ensure that these new money-saving strategies are incorporated into your school nutrition program’s budget, it’s a best practice to utilize a software solution to manage your program’s financials.

Streamline your labor tracking.

Time is money in the child nutrition industry, right? In the past, keeping track of staff members’ schedules might consist of a pen/paper method, or even an Excel spreadsheet. This tedious task could tie up a great deal of the manager’s time where he or she might spend hours planning the week’s schedule, and coordinating staff members’ time off and/or part time schedules. Online scheduling platforms, which allow staff members to check-in paper free at their terminals, can ultimately streamline the labor tracking process. An online scheduling platform allows managers to take back their time and, in turn, save the child nutrition program money.

Consider e-Marketing.

Marketing is the strategy used for communicating with your consumers – the students you serve, and their guardians who foot the bill – to generate a buzz about the products and services you offer. In many cafeterias, marketing efforts include purchasing promotional materials like pencils or stickers, or dressing up the cafeteria with decorations, themed menu items and posters. Even if you only order promotional materials once a year, and even if the cafeteria decorations only cost $20 or $30 each time you visit the craft store, these costs can add up quickly. And then, when the students leave the cafeteria, are they still remembering your marketing messages?

It’s a real money-saver to consider marketing your program and posting your menus where students and parents prefer to consume their information – on their smartphones! Creating social media platforms (and regularly updating them!) and/or utilizing a student/parent engagement app to publish menus and collect feedback is a great way to market to your consumers in an online format that can help your program save money.

Share your thoughts!

In the second installment of this money-saving series, I’ll offer three more ways you can cut costs in your child nutrition program. Have any of the above strategies worked for your program? What are other strategies your program has used to save money? Share your thoughts in the comments below.