For those of us involved with school nutrition, we know that our number one priority is to feed America’s youth. We also play a part in instilling healthy habits in our students from a young age. School breakfast and lunch programs are a huge player in this mission, but there are other parts of the school day that you could be missing out on: specifically, classroom celebrations. These celebrations for birthdays and holidays usually involve cupcakes, cookies, sodas and other highly processed foods. With high levels of fat, sugar and sodium, typical classroom party snacks aren’t exactly in line with the nutrition standards that we work so hard to meet in our cafeteria lines. In addition to this, it’s hard to regulate the foods that enter our classrooms as they relate to students’ food allergies and dietary restrictions. As a solution to this issue, many schools are implementing a new program that benefits students, parents, and even the school nutrition department: healthy classroom catering.

Classroom catering could be a fantastic addition to your school nutrition program, as it is just one more way to help provide students with nutritious and safe

food to fuel them throughout the school day. Implementing a healthy classroom catering program will make classroom parties easier for parents, and will give them peace of mind in knowing exactly what kinds of food are being served at the parties. Classroom catering would also provide your cafeteria with another revenue stream – allowing for more wiggle room in other parts of your program’s budget. Although it may sound like a daunting task, healthy classroom catering doesn’t have to be a complicated program. Read on to dive right into the benefits of classroom catering, and discover the tips for implementing a similar program in your operations.

Parents will thank you.

Not all parents have time to prepare the perfect snack for their child’s classroom party. Oftentimes, they will opt for quick, pre-packaged foods – which are typically highly processed, full of sugar, and generally unhealthy. Even then, they still have to find the time to go to the store and purchase those items. Why not make it even easier for parents, and redirect those dollars to your school nutrition program? Parents can come straight to you with their catering order, and then you can deliver it to the classroom. It’s a win-win.

Know what is entering the classroom.

Classroom catering programs can also give parents, teachers, and students a better insight into what’s in the snacks they’re eating. This is great for avoiding food allergies, catering to special diets, and generally keeping classroom parties healthier. Parents whose children don’t have allergies or special diets may not understand what foods can and cannot be served to students who do have restrictions. This lack of understanding can cause problems when parents bring in snacks with allergens or ingredients that other students can’t have. Letting the nutrition department take care of the food preparation will keep everyone happy, healthy, and safe.

Generate extra revenue.

Healthy classroom catering creates another channel to use in providing children with the nutrition they need to grow and learn. It also creates another channel to produce extra revenue for the cafeteria. The extra dollars in your budget could be invested back into classroom catering, or used for other areas in your program that need a little extra care.

What’s on the menu?

Most existing classroom catering programs offer several healthy snack options for classroom parties and price the items per student. Things like veggies, fruits, and milk are popular offerings, but you can get creative like Rochester Public Schools (MN), and offer fun snacks like fruit pizza, fruit kabobs, or fruit salsa with cinnamon nachos. In addition to snacks, Traverse City Area Public Schools (MI)even offers breakfast parties and pizza parties.  These could be priced per student, or made even simpler by pricing per class. To make it even easier for parents, you could deliver the party snacks straight to the classroom. Parents could pick up the food and deliver it themselves if they want, but having an easier option will incentivize them even more to order their snacks from the nutrition department.

Keep it simple.

Implementing a new program doesn’t mean you have to hire new staff members to get the job done. If you keep it simple and organized, you can accommodate the extra food preparation. Norwood-Norfolk Central School District makes sure to prepare the food ahead of time, so that orders aren’t put together last minute. They also ask parents to place their order at least one week in advance so that the nutrition department can plan ahead.

Whether you opt to offer a small snack menu or full meals in your catering program, the benefits will be widespread. Parents will thank you for the convenience and the peace of mind in knowing all diets are respected; students will thank you for the healthy, delicious snacks you provide; and your nutrition department will thank you for the extra dollars in revenue.