Effective communication is essential in no matter which industry you work. Even in your personal life, communication is absolutely key in sharing ideas with others and getting things accomplished efficiently. In child nutrition, you probably communicate with many groups of people, and these groups of people are very diverse in nature. Today we’ll discuss the five main groups with which you communicate: parents, students, staff, administrators and state agency.

When it comes to your communication practices with these groups, are your strategies “one-size-fits-all”? Do you speak in the same way to your elementary students as you do your administrators or state agency faculty? Absolutely not. Use this guide to determine how you should communicate with each of these groups in order to spread your messages effectively.

Parents

Although students are your primary customers if you work in a child nutrition program, parents are generally the ones footing the bill for their meals. When you are communicating with parents, it’s important to be respectful. Remember that they are relying on you and your team to feed their children the nourishment they need in order to facilitate their learning. Really listen to their concerns, discuss them with your staff or co-workers, and keep them in mind when making plans for or changes in your program’s operations. Sometimes, parents can get angry – whether it be about unpaid meal charges, menus, etc. Remember to stay calm when faced with an angry parent, calmly explain your side of the disagreement, discuss the policies your program has put into place, and offer some kind of compromise to lighten the situation, if possible.

Students

If you work in child nutrition, obviously the students are your main customers. It is important to communicate with the students at a level they understand. This means your communication tactics will vary with the students’ ages. Give them a smile as they pass through the line or spot you in the hallway; you never know how your positivity can rub off on them. Be assertive with your students when needed (ex: reminding students of an unpaid meal charge, moving the line along, etc.), but don’t be grumpy! School can be tough, and sometimes it takes a negative toll on students’ moods throughout the day. If you see students looking sad or stressed, tell them hello and that you hope they have a good day. It could really turn their day around!

As we discussed in the first installment of this communication series, listening is the very first fundamental of communication. Listen to your students! Find out what their concerns are, or let them tell you what they want to see on the menu. It’s important to keep the customer happy, and making sure you are listening to your customers is a step in the right direction.

Staff

Your child nutrition staff – whether you work in the kitchen, in the serving line or in the office – is your tribe! Your colleagues are your friends and teammates. It is important to treat them that way. No matter their position in your program, treat them as your equal. Never speak in a condescending way to a co-worker simply because you have a different role than him or her. It’s also important to keep everyone on the staff in the loop when there is new information or practices to be shared.

Get to know one another! Come up with code words to use in your operations. Check in with one another. Offer each other help! These are all subtle ways that you can communicate with those you work with in child nutrition in order to have the most efficient operations and positive, respectful and productive workspace.

Administrators

When it comes to child nutrition, the school district’s administrators are there to help your team and program flourish, so it is important to develop good, strong relationships with them. Remember to speak to them respectfully. Let them know of any challenges you’re facing, and listen carefully to any changes they are planning to make, or events or strategies they would like to see in your operations. Collaborate with these administrators, and keep them in the loop when it comes to any changes being made. They are an extremely valuable resource to your program, so don’t neglect to reach out to them when you need help, wish to make changes or want to expand your budget.

State Agency Personnel

Personnel for the State Agency may show up or contact you or someone in your program from time to time. Because they are the “big wigs” in this industry, do we have to bat our eyes and laugh extra loud at all their jokes when communicating with them? There’s no need to roll out the red carpet for this group of people, but it is important to professional and be prepared in your communication with the State Agency. Answer all of their questions honestly, and don’t be afraid to ask them any questions you may have. If you’re unclear about certain expenses, new policies, or information in the handbook, call and ask them for interpretation.

It is also important to stay informed and up to date on things like application processes, and what materials or documents are needed for a pre-audit, to make communication with the State Agency run smoothly. If your state has opted for a statewide policy, communicate clearly with your State Agency personnel about any implementation that will be necessary for your program.

As we have seen, communication with the many groups we come in contact with in child nutrition is certainly not “one-size-fits-all.” But by remembering these best practices, you’ll maintain a steady and clear line of communication between your program and members of these groups all year long.

Check back next week for the fourth and final installment in this series on effective C & C (communication and cooperation) in your child nutrition program!

To read the first, second and fourth parts of this series, please follow the links provided.

About the Author:

Hi there! My name is Michael Grillo and I am a Marketing Specialist at PrimeroEdge. I love creating valuable content for school nutrition professionals across the nation and helping them serve their students in new and exciting ways.