School Nutrition Education Program
Turning Difficulty Into Opportunity
USDA Professional Standards Code-4120/4130/4140/4150/4160
● West Christian – CEO of Food Handler Solutions & School Food Handler
● Bart Christian – Chairman of School Food Handler
● Michael Miller – President of Smart Systems serving school districts across Indiana, Michigan,
How can the food industry and school food authorities continue to work together and show support for
each other as we start planning for this upcoming school year?
I appreciate the question and you’re a hundred percent correct. I think, to use the analogy that no one
likes to change, but a baby with a wet diaper, it’s so true and we’ve all been kind of thrust into this
situation and we all have been forced to embrace change. If you’re not embracing this chaos and this
change, those are the people that I really feel for.
● I think those of us that are kind of looking at this, taking it day by day, to the degree that we can
is so important for all of us, but I remember back in literally it was at the lake that of action and
conference in Washington, DC and life seemed so normal. Just a few months ago here, we were
lobbying congress for the importance of school nutrition programs and trying to help them
understand the essential nature of school nutrition and literally we got back from that trip.
● On that Friday the 13th, schools across the United States closed, but unlike a lot of businesses
that came to an end temporarily, school nutrition professionals showed up for work that same
day, never went home in some cases, and literally started planning to put meals together and
out in front of their community that Monday morning. Those people who have our school
nutrition professional friends are truly heroes for what they’ve done and showing up.
● You think about it that the unemployment rate in February was the greatest economy in half a
century at three and a half 10, but this last month we lost 20 and a half million jobs.
Unemployment rate is closing in at 15 at and today, I think it’s gone even higher.
● I think the estimates are that we’re gonna be twenty-five percent here very soon. To say that the
situation is unprecedented, I don’t think there’s a better word for it. It’s truly something that I
don’t think any of us ever could have imagined. With that being said, I think your question is
what we can be doing, and I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think it’s so important for us to all
maintain good communication and to stay engaged.
● The situation as we look back and as I was just kind of thinking about our conversation today,
those first few days. In fact, the first few weeks’ situation was changing by the day and in many
cases, by the hour, we were getting guidance and directions and speculating and wondering. It
was just the constant, just when you thought you had things figured out, they changed the rules
● I think that all of us need to continue to practice good communication but also good flexibility. I
was listening to your show with Joe Pettit last week and just being patient and being flexible are
so important. Again, back to embracing change.
● The key for all of us is to stay relevant and to continue to support and proactive ways because
Michael and I have been share a couple of days we’ve been on phone calls together and one of
the key things I hear is that you have to really trains of thought and one of them is what do we
do and another one is how can we take advantage and stay relevant to our customers and still be
sure that we’re providing them the resources that are timely for this time that we’re in because
this too shall pass but for this time period for us to survive as vendor partners, we have to be just
that we have to be partners.
● I think telling, helping our customers tell their story, I think is also very important right now and
tell you how many people I’ve talked to and that we can say that a hundred percent of our
customers are closed but 90% or more are trying to do the business. Well, 95% of our customers
are trying to serve meals and many of them are serving more meals than ever some fewer than
ever, but they’re all to take the kids in their community and that’s unprecedented and most
people when you start to tell them that they’re like, “Wow, I had no idea that that was going on.”
● I think the news media is doing a solid job of covering the medical professionals and the food
banks that are out there, but I think there’s been a missed opportunity of really focusing on
school nutrition professionals and I think we’re starting to hear that, thank goodness. I think as
industry professionals and as members of the school nutrition industry, I think we could all help
each other by continuing to tell the positive story that’s going on because it is truly good news.
We talked about being made and feet of Jesus for those of us that are Christians and truly, these
people are all of us included are truly being the hands and feet right now in this unprecedented
How do you see or foresee the way that meals are served in schools? How do you foresee that
changing in the summer?
I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think in listening to what some of our school nutrition operators have
been saying is I think that this syncing plans and requirements that are going to be in there that I think
many of them are anticipating some type of grab and go or grab and serve or go to the cafeteria, serve,
get your meal and bring it back to a classroom could be there.
● I think having some simpler menu items are going to continue, but I also hear directors trying to
figure out how they’re going to be able to serve some of the favorites the kids like and enjoy and
look forward to. I think that while it’s still early, I think many of our food service directors out
there are thinking very creatively and I know having been on a number of SNA webinars recently
listening to industry members that are also trying to do and so back to that communication piece
earlier, the better we understand what the school nutrition professionals need, the better all of
us can respond and I think the exciting things but it’s still so very early to tell what’s going to
happen in a couple of months but I know everybody’s anxious the plan and it’s going to be state
to state and a lot of ways because I think Wyoming is going back to school next week. They’re
reopening their schools.
● If I didn’t read that wrong this morning and you’re going to have people like Michael said, grab
and go. You’re going to see people run. You’ve run a kiosk up and down the hallways, delivering
hot meals. You’re going to have kids go into the cafeteria and get the meals and bring it back. It’s
really going to depend and it’s almost going to be district to district, and I don’t know Michael if
you feel about this, but I don’t really see the USDA or the CDC giving any major guidance on how
meals are served. Other than maybe some type of social distancing will continue to have to be
maintained for a period of time.
● I think part of that is each school, they were never designed to handle this kind of feeding. It
blew my mind that just recently we were talking to a school nutrition director who was talking
about the number of meals that they were serving. They were essentially serving right now, a
week’s worth of meals on a Monday.
● Three meals a day or two meals a day, it might’ve been breakfast and lunch served for the week
but think about the production of that many meals, where do you put all of that cold food when
your cold food storage wasn’t designed for that. This whole challenge has opened the door to
some interesting challenges that these schools have yet to figure out and have developed
procedures around. Being in the cleaning and the food safety and sanitation side of the industry.
● The good from on the positive side, school nutrition professionals have always done a very good
job of teaching, keeping our citizens clean and for many of them, it isn’t but what is important is
making sure that those procedures that have been in place are actually being applied
consistently on a daily basis and I’ll just share this one other anecdote is that recently on our
recent FM weapon, they were talking about some research that was actually conducted in
schools as it related to sanitation and specifically as it pertained to sanitizer buckets and while
the vast majority of people understood the importance of those sanitizer buckets, very few
actually use them correctly and or change them out properly.
● I only share that as a small example of how we’re adapting to this new normal and considering
we’re dealing with a pandemic and a very dangerous virus that the level of awareness. It’s so
essential for our school nutrition professionals and again, back to industry members of trying to
be conscientious and cognizant of that and our role.
How do you see supply chains being affected by the virus, the shutdown, and trade tensions with
China and things of that nature?
That’s a great question and I appreciate it. You gave me advanced notice to think about that, but even
with the advanced notice. Again, I go back to the crystal ball and not being an expert in braid of anything
but I think that just using some Layman’s terms or just maybe a Layman’s approach to this is that I think
that just like we’re hearing about with Tyson, a great supplier of poultry products that if any member of
their human, in this case, they had a number of people that got sick on a plant.
● The impact of that plant was to shut it completely down. The companies left in a tailspin and
meanwhile, the country is what they couldn’t keep up with production. It’s not just Tyson and I
don’t mean to point them out to in any way disparage their name because we know that Tyson is
a great company, but whether you’re a small company or a big company, we can all be affected if
we don’t take care of our people and keep them safe.
● That buy and demand equation, a variable in the equation I should say is that if people get sick in
this industry, it could severely interrupt the food chain very quickly and I don’t have a crystal ball
on what the tariffs are going to do or what China is going to do. I just know and I can speak for
what we’re seeing in our own grocery stores. When you go to cast Sam’s and you see that the
meat aisle has been completely decimated. Why can only translate to that as meaning that we
could have that same trouble in our school nutrition programs with our customers being able to
get access to those great products and food items that they look forward to having and
● I’ll also just share one other side note, one of my best friends is a big farmer in Indiana and they
were very scared about this dynamic because they didn’t think about it but if a farmer gets sick
from the Covid situation and had to spend weeks in bed or in a hospital, even worse, who’s there
to plant that field for them when you have one growing season in our market. You think about
what’s the impact on the supply chain. That’s something we’re seeing right now is immediate,
but I think there’s going to be other implications that come in the months ahead that we haven’t
even seen yet. I wish I could say more about that, to the degree that I feel comfortable speaking
about it. That’s what I think is happening.
● I would just add this is that there’s going to be other ancillary things that are going to be affected
as well. People think about food. When you think about challenges, when you think about a food
service operation, there’s a great many other things that are used in a cafeteria.
● One of the things that I see with the serving thing is we’re going to go from having trays and
disposable ones probably haven’t having containers. Where are those containers going to come
from? Schools that are we looking for? Spray bottles and buckets and things like that.
● If they don’t have vendors that are capable of supplying those things, then that could cause an
issue too and we’re all going to be kind of minding those things very carefully and making sure
that people take care of what they’ve got because we really don’t know, like Michael said, we
don’t have a crystal ball. We really don’t know what the future holds for the entire supply chain,
not just food, but everything.
● I think the other thing that we are hearing in our specific segment of the industry is something
that we’ve never had to deal with, but the potential for rations. Because of the demand in the
sanitation industry, as you can imagine, hand sanitizers for journal cleaners for the plastics and
accessories that are being used in them.
● Everyone’s trying to figure out how to take better care and clean and disinfect their operations
from school districts to office buildings. I think that what we’re seeing is that you have rations
that we’re having to may not be able to get the same level of supply that we were a few months
ago, just because of what we talked about. It could be because essential services have been
allowed to work, but then somebody gets half the shut down and, or a voluntary shutdown just
to keep and protect their staff but then you have non-essential services that haven’t been in
business and suddenly they open up and they have a glut of orders that they need to somehow
get caught up with and challenges may be getting the raw materials that are necessary to get
It’s a very complex situation for sure and the financial crisis is real. What Bart just mentioned about the
financial crunch to the school district, a year, many schools that are providing new meals and new
containers and disposable products that they had never budgeted for so that’s another challenge that
we haven’t really seen before.
What should school food authorities take into consideration when budgeting before they add a new
service drop? What are some things that are important for them to keep in mind?
I would certainly say that supply chain challenges, like what we just talked about, the potentials for
rationing and shortages are essential and back to the first comment, how we started the meeting. I think
communication is so important and I know that our food vendors especially try to get estimates and
numbers for what they think they’re going to need. I don’t know how you can produce anything if you
don’t know what you’re going to need and so all of our vendors are asking for the fact, we’ve already
submitted orders for the fall time. Here we are on May 8th, and we’ve got orders for July and August as
our orders are as manufacturers want to know what they need to produce.
● I think probably from a school food authority’s need, get with drip or get with your vendors and
try to talk about these things so that they can get some idea of what you’re going to need or
what your needs are and while demand is down for some items, it’s unprecedented for others.
Again, you might work with your vendor to find out that the item that you were hoping to maybe
feed on your menu or that piece of equipment that you had really hoped to procure. It may not
be available, but there may be alternate items available that could be just as good that are in
stock. I think reaching out to your vendors and just working hand in hand is really important.
● The last comment you made was if I think about making a switch or tapping a vendor, I would
just encourage all schools authorities to really consider the value proposition that your industry
partners may be the table because their industry perspective and experience and expertise may
be more valuable than ever and switching because of the price of something or getting rid of it
could be a very dangerous move at this time, because you may end up in a position where you
aren’t able to get anything in the aftermath. It’s just so important to work together.
● I think that’s key because everybody’s always looking for new business but during this time,
vendors are gonna be primarily focused and taking care of their existing customers first and so
when you become a new customer to somebody ordinarily that makes you special, sometimes,
and to going forward into this next year, that may not necessarily be 100% the case if that makes
What type of opportunities do you see that have opened up for school food authorities and this
upcoming gear, whether it be technological opportunities, whether it be training opportunities,
whether it be really increasing participation through great marketing? What type of opportunities are
you hearing from folks that they’re looking into, or what type of suggestions do you have for school
food authorities to look into more?
That’s a great question and I know that we’re probably just as we banter and kick this around, we could
probably think of some more opportunities. I think this is one of those things where I think when you get
into some think tanks and start brainstorming, I can’t underestimate the value of that. Kind of group
mentality could be very powerful right now, but I think what school nutrition operators have done and
whether it’s happened all as a natural by-product of this pandemic is that they’ve proven their essential
role and their stock has increased exponentially right now.
● I think while many food service directors like the idea of flying under the radar and didn’t want
to be on the radar. They’re now on the radar more than ever and so I would encourage every
school, food authority, every food service director out there to take advantage and instead of
fight against this wave, I’d get on top of it and surf it and try to take advantage of the marketing
and try to public promote as much as possible the good things that they’re doing for their
community. I think the others on the backside of this pandemic, there’s going to be an
opportunity to talk about the opportunity to improve their programs, to re-invest into
technology and to new equipment. The things that maybe they’ve been asking for and have
been getting put off might finally come through.
● I definitely think that this is going to drive the need for technology. If you’re a school and we
know out there that many of them have outdated equipment and are overdue for updating, well
this is a great time to maybe look at that. If you have food and your freezers and coolers, and
they don’t have some kind of a monitoring system as an example, the potential for that cooler
and freezer to go out, the dollar volume of that food may be more valuable than ever because
these are dependent upon that food more than ever. These are things that maybe we take for
granted and maybe the school food service director has been sort of going to the business
manager or the superintendent and saying, “Hey, I really need this.” and they’ve been told “No,
well, now may be an excellent time to reposition that.”
● I think for ended members to be looking for that opportunity and trying not to just do it to
self-promote their products and services, but looking for the win-win situation instead of maybe
going for ancillary items that may not be as important right now is to really focus in on the pain
points of the school nutrition authorities that are out there and really try to better position
products and services that truly do have a value and a return on investment and then try to help
that director position it in a positive way that will help their business fix or a superintendent
makes sense of it. I think those are some opportunities that are there right now, but the need for
marketing communication is so important and there are some easy places to begin.
I’ve been talking to directors across the country before this happened since last December about
developing marketing tools for internal marketing, because one of the greatest challenges I see in child
nutrition has been here before. Getting attention for the great job that they do every single day and
getting the superintendents, the school boards, the teachers, the parents, to understand the value of
what they do. Clearly a lot of those hurdles to overcome in the last few weeks, because now parents are
actually getting to see the food that the kids are being served. The superintendents, the teachers are
beginning to see the hard work that these ladies and gentlemen do every single day. In essence that
marketing effort has already been started, I think that school nutrition, operations have been given as a
tremendous opportunity to carry forward and show people that yes, we truly are. Lunch school
superhero day really does mean something.
● I think that is something that I’ve got. The second opportunity I see is that with technology
advancement and what we’ve seen with assumes and with the online training things that have
been done over the past few weeks and people doing at home training, people are beginning to
● I think I see the value of developing a culture of training. I think districts that have been doing
these large one time a year congregate meetings, where they do a meeting and have a six-hour
session, and then they don’t do anything else for the rest of the year. I think they’re beginning to
understand they’re not going to go do that, number one. The second thing is that this type of
training really doesn’t carry forward into the year because we both know that if we say
something to somebody in August, come October, November, we’re having to say the same thing
over again. Seeing them develop a culture of training and ongoing cultural training, I think is
going to be something we’re going to see a lot and the use of technology is going to be a big part
● I think it’s going to be a couple approaches. Before, I think a lot of people may have ignored the
value of online training and even program formats like where it’s a live trainer that may be being
cast over a screen to an in-service audience at a school. All of these things now are going to be
one more tool in the tool chest that I think our customers says too and I think that’s another
value that we can offer.
● I think if you’re a food service vendor to show how you could prepare a menu and how that goes
could be done easily over something like this, a platform like a video training. If you were an
equipment vendor, to be able to show someone how to use your combi oven and or clean it
properly in a video, a thing like this could be very helpful or for us to do things like this because
as you said, you then have the archived file that you can go back to and rewatch. As we all know,
each one of these training lessons are unique in themselves.
● Sometimes we don’t say the same things. Having that lesson captured, I think it’s going to be
important that this is a great way to have a very informal exchange. Maybe when we do training
though, we need to think about having some of it more scripted to ensure that we hit those high
points because when people sit down to watch these training videos, I think it will be very
important to make sure we’re hitting those high points that it is somewhat done professionally
but I don’t think we have to have a video editor and a video shops in our companies. Some of
this, like what we’re doing right now over a laptop computer, or a cell phone might be just raw
enough and professional enough at the same time to get the job done.
● I had one other point I wanted to go back to in four weeks. We moved on to the online training
which we can go back through, but I think back to the opportunities. I think that right now, it
used to be that certainly school food service opportunities or school food programs obviously
had a high participation with the free and reduced categories.
● All right now, in light of unemployment, there’s 25% of the country on the verge of being
unemployed and that doesn’t discriminate. That unemployment number, you have people of all
different socio-economic backgrounds that are now qualifying for free and reduced-price meals.
● I think the opportunity is for our customers to capture a whole new audience that they didn’t
have before, but in a very important way, serving meals that are more essential than ever. You go
back to when the school nutrition program first began as a part of our national defense program.
● Again, if we are truly in a war with an invisible enemy, then these school meal programs are
moreover, and I think that’s the opportunity too. It’s just to get back to maybe some of the
What type of marketing or what can these food service operations do to really make their customers
feel safe again eating?
I think everyone that’s going to go out is going to be scared a little bit of this invisible enemy. I think that
making sure number one, that your staff are well-trained, that your food handlers are very well trained
on food safety and sanitation, and obviously precautions for this Covid virus, making sure that people are
Visually, it’s one thing to go. I wouldn’t go into a store recently, as an example, they’ve provided masks
for their employees, but the employees are wearing them on their chin or on their forehead. What good
does that do and what does it accumulate if it’s there and not in your mouth? It’s no different than what
we’ve been saying about wearing disposable gloves properly.
● In this case, in this era right now, I think it’s so important that they demonstrate good
understanding, they should demonstrate their knowledge and they practice and apply it
● I think it is very important that the customers see that because it will put them at ease that this
person that is serving me now understands the risk and cares about me enough that they’re
going to follow it. I think that’s a really key and simple thing that a restaurant or a school
nutrition program could do and also market the use of that.
● If they’re in their social media, in their marketing or whatever they do, maybe have we’re
working on some tools right now that we’re going to roll out next week that are basically posters
that you can put up in a food service operation that show how to properly wear a mask, how to
properly take a mask off, recognizing common symptoms, recognizing common centers, not only
yourself, but other people, just let people know through those types of things.
● We’re not only looking out for you, but we’re also watching ourselves and monitoring those
things. The mask thing, to be perfectly honest with you, I would say no less than 50% of the
people that I see wearing masks out when I’m out and about doing whatever we get to do now
or wearing the mask properly, and the other 50% are doing this the whole time. They’re
fidgeting with it and picking at it and doing something. Those types of behaviors can’t be present
in the food service operation. Whoever runs that operation gets a restaurant or a school has to
be very, very clear with their staff. These are things that we absolutely do not do in front of the
● We all know that behind the scenes, sometimes things can be a bit off sometimes, but those
habits have to be agreeable. Completely, totally and constantly amongst the staff because
otherwise customers might walk in and they might sit down, they see somebody woke up with
their gloves on their mass, serve them and then as we’re walking away doing this with their
mask, it’s going to send a bad signal and they may get up and leave or they may never come back
and they’re going to tell all their friends and that’s reality. How many of us have.
● Seeing someone not wearing a mask might be just enough to say, “I don’t feel comfortable here.”
That’s the new normal that I think we’re going to be in for a little while. I don’t think it will be,
but for at least the near future, that’s going to be the key to restaurant and foodservice survival
in the next 18 months. It’s going to be the sending the proper signals to your customers because
as we said, or this too shall pass, but the fear and the paranoia will be the last thing to go after
● We’ve been trying to patronize restaurants during this time because I know that the impact that
it’s had on their market too, has been unprecedented. As we’ve done this, we have seen both
the really good people that have really implemented good procedures and I feel totally
comfortable, and we keep going back to those facilities and then I see others that haven’t gotten
a clue yet and still don’t get it.
● I think it’s just a matter of time, unfortunately, before it they’re either going to go out of business
or they’re going to get on board with. I just want to say that I am so proud of our school nutrition
industry. I’m proud of our team and I think we’re all paying attention carefully and trying to
adapt appropriately and very quickly. Again, I can’t speak for other industries, and I’ll stay in my
lane on this, but I really am proud of the school nutrition industry and especially our heroic
school food professionals who have just done an amazing job in the light of such tremendous
Again, I appreciate you guys having me on and I just tip my hat to all those out there that are getting it
done safely. We got God, y’all stay safe, stay strong. We’re all in this together and that’s the truth and
we’ll all come out of this together. We’ll all come out of this stronger than ever. Just believe, be positive,
be light and salt to the people that you come in contact with because there are a lot of people that
you’re going to come in contact with that are still going to be afraid and I think that the biggest thing we
can do is to share a kind word and a smile as much as we can and as often as we can during this