Changes save time and customers in Phoenix schools

Changes save time and customers in Phoenix schools – Celebrating 40 Years of School Lunch

Tino Serrano

Changes Save Time And Win Customers In Phoenix Schools

When Dave Caldwell took over as food service director for the Washington School District in Phoenix 5 years ago, he made sweeping changes in the program. Applying principles he had used in the private sector, he set about building what is today a very large, popular, and financially sound food service operation.

“Coming here from a food service background at Greyhound Food Management and a number of frestaurants, maybe my approach is not the same as someone brought up in school lunch,’ says Caldwell.

“We’re always looking for ways to upgrade our product and at the same time make our program more cost effective in order to keep prices down.’ Many of the changes Caldwell has made do both. He feels the Washington District is fairly typical and that most lunch programs could adopt his ideas.

Changes simplify meal preparation

There are 21,000 students in the district’s 32 schools. Five schools are junior highs with seventh and eighth grade only, and the rest are elementary schools with kindergarten through sixth grade. There are no high schools in the district.

When Caldwell became food service director, half of the schools had fully equipped kitchens where they prepared food for their students and for one other school.

Caldwell decided to have all schools serve lunches assembled on site using mostly heat-and-serve and convenience foods. This has simplified preparation, cut down on the amount of equipment needed, and dramatically reduced labor costs.

While food costs are higher with the convenience foods, savings from the simplified preparation more than compensate for the increase. The heat-and-serve meals assure consistent quality at all schools and offer greater menu flexibility.

All of Caldwell’s schools offer four entrees each day. Two of the entrees –peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hamburgers–are offered daily. The other two entrees change from day to day.

On Monday, the entrees might be oven-baked chicken and Sloppy joes; Tuesday, cheese enchiladas and corn dogs; Wednesday, bologna and cheese sandwiches and breaded fish; Thursday, chicken nuggets and spaghetti with meat sauce; Friday, pizza and tacos. The daily menu always includes a potato product, fruit juice, milk, tossed salad, and either a vegetable or fruit selection.

The added variety, Caldwell feels, pays off in greater participation. More than 65 percent of the students eat school meals. Eighty-seven percent of the meals served are sold at full price.

Giving students the freedom to serve themselves wherever possible saves labor costs and food. “We don’t have a person on the line, for example, giving each child two pickle slices. Those who want pickle slices help themselves,’ says Caldwell,

Other improvements also save money

In addition to changes on the food line, a number of behind-the-scenes improvements make the lunch program more cost effective. For example, using disposable plates, cups, and utensils eliminates dishwashing equipment, saves labor costs, and has cut some kitchen utility bills in half. Limiting lunch ticket sales from daily to twice per week has cut clerical staff hours.

Staff time required to prepare meals has been reduced more than 50 percent, from as high as 54 staff hours per day in some schools to an average of 18 to 20 hours. The smaller staffs are more easily supervised so each manager oversees two or three schools instead of one, resulting in a savings of more than 50 percent.

As the program becomes more streamlined and workers more experienced, manpower requirements continue to drop, Caldwell says. “In one school, we’ve got three employees serving lunch to 250 children, and they’re only there a couple of hours.’

Single vendor supplies food

The Washington School District awards an annual contract to a single vendor to supply virtually all the food for the school year. Throughout the year, individual school managers deal directly with the vendor for deliveries to their schools.

With this arrangement, Calwell says he is able to purchase at lower prices than with central purchasing from several vendors. In addition to the cost advantage, the ordering and billing is greatly simplified, and the food is delivered to each school, when needed.

The only foods now stored by the district are USDA commodities. Limiting stored items has enabled Caldwell to turn back to the district central warehouse space, reduce the district warehouse staff, and significantly reduce the district’s delivery costs.

The school district buys the best food it can. “The few pennies saved on a lesser product are a false economy,’ says Caldwell. “I believe you have to really merchandise your lunch, and it doesn’t make any sense to put watered-down ketchup on a great french fry.’

In addition to cost-conserving ideas, Caldwell has initiated several income-producing activities. The food service section caters school functions like graduation, luncheons, and parenteacher association meetings.

There are many signs of success

Caldwell points to a number of indicators of the success of the Washington program:

Two-thirds of the district’s children participate, even though only a small percentage receive free or reduced-price meals.

The program covers its own food and labor costs and has kept the price of a full-cost lunch at 75 cents.

Added choice and self-service have cut plate waste dramatically. “Our garbage cans are full of paper,’ says Caldwell, “not food.’

Caldwell expects to add to these accomplishments next year. “I don’t think any one thing we’re doing is unique,’ he says. “You just have to keep track of what other schools are doing and take and use those ideas that work for you.’

For more information contact: Dave Caldwell Director, Food Service Washington School District #6 8610 N. 19th Ave Phoenix, Arizona 85021 Telephone: (602) 864-2665

Photo: Every day is special for school lunch customers in Phoenix’s Washington District, but barbecue days have added appeal. Students get to eat some of their favorites–like charcoaled hamburgers– outside on the lawn with their friends.

Photo: The master chef for the special barbecues is food service director Dave Caldwell (above), who says he enjoys them as much as students do.

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