Two New Questions for the Mystery Food Services Director

by Bettina Elias Siegel on March 31, 2011

Two new questions have recently come in for TLT’s Mystery Food Services Director.

In the first, a reader wrote in asking how to go about building a school kitchen from scratch:

Hi and thank you for this amazing trove of useful information and inspiration! My daughter is in a new charter middle/high school in Brooklyn and they have just recently announced that they will be miraculously building their own facility! I am anxious to do what is possible to make sure the food service will not be an after thought or relegated by the city (in bed with the predatory corporate food industry).  None of us including the administration know much about how the food service works and what our option are if any. (the admin did say that a commercial kitchen is cost prohibitive so if we want more than warming possibilities we have to fund raise) Do you have any suggestions for a school in our situation? Where do we start? Who should we go to for help and insight? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!
The MFSD responds:
The key here is “none of us including the administration know much about how food service works”. 

My initial suggestion would be for the administration (or facilities planning committee) to hire a consultant that is knowledgeable in school food that can offer food service options. The costs of including a functional kitchen are far less during the design phase than later after construction is complete.

The capital investment would be tied to space design and equipment needs (there will be some cost even in a warming kitchen).  Fund raising for those costs wouldn’t be unatainable. The larger concern would be operational sustainability; will funding be available to sustain the food service program chosen (now and in the future).

Let me go on record saying, kitchen design and operations by non-food service professionals is the key to disaster.

The second reader question was very basic, but quite common:

Where should I start first to begin to try to make positive changes to the school lunch menu? Who do I talk to, what do I say? What works?

The MFSD responds:

Seek other concerned or interested parents who are willing to invest time in child nutrition. Be prepared to spend considerable time developing a true understanding of the challenges and constraints child nutrition programs face. 

Request a meeting with the Food Service Director; make it clear you understand the challenges and want to help (and you are willing to invest time working collaboratively). Do not expect major concessions; understand their are limitations to what the Food Service Director can achieve alone. Be patient.

I’d also refer this reader to Dana Woldow’s excellent new school food reform website, PEACHSF.org, and specifically to her article, “How to Make Friends with Your Nutrition Services Director,” which is on PEACHSF and also appeared here as a guest blog post.
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Is there something you’d like to ask the Mystery Food Services Director?  Use the contact tab above to get straight answers to your nagging school food reform questions.

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