Information provided by Gayle Swain and Laurance Anderson’s MNSNA presentation, “Mobile Serving 2.0.”

Meal serving periods and other cafeteria logistics can cause challenges in your food service program. A typical U.S. school lunch period is only 15-30 minutes, and when long lines are present, students have even less time to eat. Many solutions focus on moving students through the line faster, but another solution could be spreading out those students so that lines aren’t as long.

There are several mobile serving programs that can help eliminate these challenges. You could overcome breakfast challenges with Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC), Grab-n-Go breakfast carts, or Breakfast After the Bell. Other solutions could include additional mobile serving lines, dinner programs, lines outside the cafeteria, utilizing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, or a-la-carte/smart snacks lines.

Let’s take a look at how three of these programs can help you overcome some of your school nutrition program challenges.

Grab-n-Go Carts

Problems Solved: Low revenue and participation, long lines

Grab-n-Go carts are a great way to increase participation and shorten cafeteria lines. You can replace a Breakfast in the Classroom program with Grab-n-Go carts, like Irving ISD (TX) did in their “Beyond the Cafeteria” initiative, or you could implement these alternative serving lines during lunch. Grab-n-Go carts don’t just have to offer your normal school lunch menu – Cincinnati Public Schools (OH) use their carts to offer unique foods that students are more interested in eating, like sushi.

These mobile carts can have a positive impact on reducing food costs and increasing revenue. For example, when Irving ISD implemented the carts in their elementary schools, the district reduced food cost by 25%. The carts in their high schools are expected to increase their yearly reimbursement by $250,000.

Additional Serving Lines

Problems Solved: Large number of students to serve, variety in food

Additional serving lines can be created inside or outside the cafeteria, and can assist with managing large numbers of students and creating more variety in your menus.

Often times, additional serving lines are created so that students can customize their meals. Tulare Joint Union HS District (CA) increased participation by implementing taco carts and salad bars in addition to their normal cafeteria offerings. Students can pick their own toppings and purchase exactly what they want.

If you want to keep your new lines in the cafeteria, and avoid hiring extra employees, you could create lines on either side of a point of service terminal with dual pin pads or bar-code scanners. Salinas Union HS District (CA) does this by using just 2 staff members to service 4 lines.

Breakfast (or Lunch) in the Classroom

Problems Solved: Low participation, difficult logistics of meal periods, not enough space in cafeteria

Students often overlook the first meal of the day or eat breakfast at home, so breakfast participation rates are usually lower than lunch participation rates. Breakfast in the Classroom is a more proactive way that you can serve breakfast. Rather than waiting for students to come to the cafeteria on their own, BIC makes it easier for your customers to buy food by bringing it to them.

PrimeroEdge customer Pasadena ISD (TX) had trouble with the logistics and timing of serving breakfast in the cafeteria in some of their schools. To solve the problem, they decided to implement a Breakfast in the Classroom program. Maybe you’re in a similar situation. Maybe you have five buses that don’t arrive until just a few minutes before the bell rings and you’re missing out on dozens of potential customers. If students can’t get to your cafeteria for breakfast, maybe BIC is a better option for your district.

Serving in the classroom doesn’t have to be limited to the first meal of the day. Dorchester County School District (SC) started serving lunch in the classroom for their kindergarteners because they didn’t have the space to feed them in the cafeteria.

Equipment for Mobile Serving

If you’re feeling inspired and want to start a mobile serving program in your district, but don’t know where to start with equipment, consider the following suggestions. The right equipment will help you stay efficient while serving your students.

  • Equipment needs to keep food at the proper temperatures.
  • Versatility and multipurpose equipment is key – a yogurt bar at breakfast can be used as a salad bar at lunch.
  • Mobile stations allow for quick transport to different areas of the school. Having a cart on wheels is a must!
  • Equipment should be compatible with your POS. A mobile point of service is a great choice for mobile serving.