Nutritional Services Sees Gains

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Thursday October 24, 2013

If you aren’t a parent or guardian, you may not have heard of the tremendous transformation that South Burlington’s school lunch program has undergone.  Gluten free and vegetarian options are offered daily as well as other enticements such as a pasta bar, shrimp dishes, and even lobster rolls! When Nutritional Services Director Rhonda Ketner was hired by the District over the summer, her goal was to help get the program out of the red. After just two and a half months, Ketner said she is “very optimistic that nutritional services will at least break even if not have a surplus this academic year.” 

How has this change taken place? By implementing cost controls, watching what she orders, comparing costs and creating menus that appeal to both students and adults alike. The number of lunches served to students is up 16% over last year and the number of adults buying lunches has increased across all locations. Numbers are especially high at the high school and middle school. “I have never seen so many staff eating in the cafeteria,Tuttle Middle School Principal Karsten Schlenter said, “it really boosts morale for kids to see their teachers there.” 

Her numbers did reflect a slight dip in participation by students at the elementary schools, which will be taken into account when she creates future menus to insure younger students have options that appeal to them as well.

According to Ketner’s report, her break even formula is right on track. “In order to break even we need to spend 40% or less on food, 40% on labor and benefits and 20% on fixed and other miscellaneous costs.” In August/September food expenditures were 38.6% (including supplies), labor was 60%, and other costs amounted to 0.6%. 

While labor costs were higher than anticipated as a result of overtime and substitute pay, her concentration in terms of operations will continue to be increasing sales and lowering food costs. Ketner said staff productivity has increased which is impressive considering they have been cooking items many had not prepared before. “It’s a lot about marketing (to the kids)” Ketner explained. Particularly where new dishes are involved. “Most of the feedback has been very positive and the constructive criticism has been beneficial. We want to know when we’re doing things wrong too.”

Compared to last October, even with 10 school lunch days remaining in the month, adult and breakfast sales have exceeded last year’s numbers. Does Ketner think she can keep this trend going? Well if the beginning of October is any indication, most definitely. 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent