Turning The Corner in Child Nutrition

School Nutrition Education Program

Turning The Corner in Child Nutrition

USDA Professional Standards Code- 3450/2230/4120/4140

Guests:

● Bart Christian – Chairman of School Food Handler
● Lindsay Aguilar – Director of Food Nutrition at Tucson Unified School District

What is it that keeps you stuck through all the stuff that we’ve been going through? What is it that is
driven by that passion as who we’ve had to pivot in a new direction?

The passion is just as a dietician, I certainly am very passionate about providing nutrition to children and
helping shape their eating habits for their lifetime.

● I think that’s an essential skill that all children should have the opportunity to be exposed to so
through the federal meal programs and our schools, being able to teach them about nutrition
and provide meals that are represented or representative wholesome meal should look like it’s
certainly part of the passion, but then there’s also just with food insecurity and knowing that the
work that we do provides meals to children that may not receive meals, if it wasn’t for the work
we do.

● In particular, during these challenging times with Covid-19, just so many families that have gone
through some tumultuous times and loss of jobs and furloughs and not being able to make ends
meet just the gratitude that we have received for continuing to provide these services to our
community definitely keep myself and our staff that momentum going and the passion going for
sure.

● I think, just being that we are an integral part of the educational systems and I think I take that
very seriously. I think we’ve this time has definitely brought that to the table for more people to
realize so that’s I guess the long answer to your question, a lot of areas of passion.
I’ve seen you quoted in several things where they’ve called you and asked you about things and how
did you find yourself in that spot?
I think it kind of started just through my involvement with snazzy and attending the LAC conference in
D.C. I think in just some of my networking connections with other directors that are involved at snazz
and at the USDA level. I was approached last year to do an interview with SNA for a piece that they were
working on.

This was all pre-Covid like literally weeks before it all started. Through that experience their public media
relations person has continued to reach out to me, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m willing to do it and
maybe a lot of people aren’t comfortable doing interviews or different things, but it’s been a great
experience.

Over the course of this pandemic, I’ve done quite a lot of different interviews from a variety. Different
publications and it certainly for me that’s another piece of the passion is just spreading the word of the
important work that we do and the challenges that we’ve all had to face and pivot and come out
stronger and better. I love to be able to share our stories.

What are some things that you and your team have been able to do this year but it may be a little?

I think for us, I know every district’s different but, in our district, we are more of the minority in at least
in our state that has not actually opened hybrid. I think in some ways that’s given us a little bit of an
advantage because we continue to kind of operate what we’ve been doing, now for since March, but we
have added some twists to it. I think it was starting to get a little stagnant and then we would have plans
to open up and then it would get changed. What’s something that is one of my favorite things that we’ve
added?

● We started in September as we were running our bus routes like we had been doing but then
our schools started obviously remote. I know a challenge for operators that across the country
has just been, if you’re doing buses or curbside matching your lunches to the schedules of the
remote learning has been very challenging for the accessibility for parents to get to the meal
stops or the schools, if you’re doing curbside to pick up, not correlating with their actual times
that they’re off for lunch for the remote learning because not everybody has the same schedule.
I mean, it’s in our district, it was really impossible to be honest, to set up our lunchtimes, to work
with 88 different locations.

● So, we identified early on that we were definitely losing participation once remote learning
started in August because a lot of parents could not get to our bus stops at the time frame that
was designated because their kids were on blind.

● They couldn’t leave them, or the parents were at work. What we started doing was offering a
weekly drive through pickup of a work, a week’s worth of meals at our central facility. It’s
essentially located for us in our district since we are such a large district, kind of in the middle
has worked well and we started off doing it later in the afternoon, so we were offering like a 3:30
to 5:30 or four to six.

● We’ve kind of played around with the different timeframes. We have a registration process to
ensure that parents are not picking up at the bus stops and the weekly pickups, so we do have a
little kind of anticipation station that they sign off. This has been very successful for us and quite
honestly, it’s way more efficient than the daily bus stops for us.

● Our buses are only able to still physically have the capacity for us to have two days’ worth of
food on them. With the numbers that we do, we’re not able to do a week’s worth of meals on
our buses so we’re running those every day, doing breakfast and lunch and then snack and
supper but the D has been really problematic for us.

● So this onetime event that we’re doing once a week for a two to three hour window, has really,
really greatly impacted getting more participation in our current grabbing meal grab and go meal
program and the response from we really found kind of the niche for the families that really
wanted to take advantage of the meal program, but were at work or couldn’t leave during the
day to go to the bus stop so they’ve been very, very grateful to have a later time frame in the day
that works for their schedule that they can at least set it up, super-efficient.

● We utilize our parking lot; we have two of our refrigerated trucks that are set up. We partner
with our school safety officers and they help us with traffic control or doing about 600 cars in a
three-hour window so we’ve got it down pretty, pretty good without the traffic backing up too
much but we’re doing seven days’ worth of meals, five snacks, five suffers all at one time and so
that’s been something that’s been very successful to just expand our reach.

When you say that you’re doing seven meals, just for clarification, is that what you’re planning on
doing for the holiday season for giving the kids food over that Christmas break?

Yeah. We’ll run; we’re doing it on Wednesday so we’ll run hours on Wednesday prior to winter break that
will roll into the first week of winter break. We’re only going to do one other pickup during winter break
just because our staff, the consensus, we all need a break.

They’ve all been working really hard, but we are going to do one pickup during the winter break to give
us another opportunity to provide meals to our families during that two-week period. Again, I really
think the parents also appreciate it that they only have to come one time. It’s a lot more convenient that
they get all of the same amount of food that they would normally get so we’re doing the seven-breakfast
southern lunch and then when school’s in session, we can do the five snacks and the five suffer as well.

How has this affected participation? I know that you and I had a conversation about how things
somewhat improved over the last few weeks. As far as participation goes, do you attribute this
formula that you’ve come up with?

Yeah, absolutely. The business side, as far as the revenue piece goes, has basically gotten to us to a point
where we’ve been able to sustain our expenses prior to us doing this.

● We weren’t even covering our payroll with our revenue because our numbers were down so
much. We’ve only been serving about 20% of our normal feeding capacity that we do during the
normal school year. Our revenue from reimbursement was down tremendously.

● Doing these weekly pickups definitely addressed a need in our community but that also really
has helped salvage some of our participation, numbers and revenue and as far as operational
costs, at least for us, because we have a warehouse.

● We have refrigerated trucks. I certainly know that this wouldn’t work for a lot of districts that
don’t have some of the same resources that we do but the amount of time and labor that this
takes to pull off in return for what we gained with the more efficient process than the numbers
that we get on our bus stops.

● Our buses do them every day, breakfast and lunch and then our weekly pickup that we run just
once a week does seven breakfasts, seven lunch, five snacks, and five sufferings all at one time.
We give out a gallon versus all of the milk for all of the various weeks’ worth that we’re doing.

● This also really helped us utilize a lot of the foods that we already had an inventory of that were
a little more challenging to pull off on the bus route.

● We have staff assembling chicken patties on a bun or bagging up slices of pizza that we had and
things we’re coming up with. Multiple cups of vegetables in one bag that covers the week and
we’ve really been able to tap into some of our inventory because on our buses, we were
primarily utilizing pre-packaged items but now with this book kind of assembly.

● We’ve been able to utilize a lot of our inventory that had just been stagnant because we didn’t
have the numbers that we had and the type of foods that we needed on our buses. This is
different. It gives us a lot more flexibility and it’s worked well with assembly teams and all of that
to pull this off.

How has your staff retention been and ultimately, how are you handling the staffing and labor costs
for this year?

We have been fortunate that we’ve been able to sustain our current staffing levels as far as it has not
opted to. At this point, consider any type of furloughs or layoffs or anything like that, which is great.
● We have some staff that have decided to retire a little early or resigned just because everything
going on but for the most part, the majority of our staff is still committed to the work that they
do and they’ve been so flexible and all of the shifts that we’ve had to make from one week it’s
like, “Okay, you’re preparing for kids to come back”, “Here’s the plan”, “This is what you need to
do”, and then two days later we’re not going back.

● We need to shift back to the buses and these pickups. Our staff has just been so flexible and
basically, I think a lot of them are truly just grateful that they have a job and we’re able to
continue to do what we do.

● Although it looks very different and we’re serving frozen food, which I know is so weird to them
and not being able to cook food, we’ve been fortunate to continue kind of where we’ve been at,
to date and not have to make any major changes so I’m grateful for that for sure.

What does menu planning actually look like for you this school year and what types of items are you
finding to be successful?

Yeah. Menu planning has definitely been quite a ride as part we’ve got. We have multiple different
menus, so we have our on-site menus for our students that are on site, the at-risk students. We do have
very small amounts of students on our campuses, McKinney, Vento, or foster students, refugees. We are
still feeding those students every day then we have our bus menu, which we’re primarily using
pre-packaged items. Although, we are starting to incorporate some of the items that we’re packaging
in-house on the bus routes.
● I think now that the pandemic has gone on for quite some time. Initially we were for safety
protocols only using pre-packaged items, but over the course of the last couple months, we
started to introduce in bags or containers with our safety protocols for staff following. It’s been
very well received. We haven’t had concerns with that, but I think it was just a matter we needed
to get through some time for our community and families to be open and receptive to that
versus seeing something that’s already commercially sealed.

● We have our bus menu and then we have our weekly pickup menu that incorporates different
items. We have depending on how we’re serving it on a bus or a drive through where we’re
doing bold or on site where they’re actually cooking food. We’ve been building our menus to
correlate appropriately with our needs for service. That’s the biggest driving factor. “What are
you putting it in?” “How are you serving it?”, “Is it hot food?”, “Is it cold food?”, and then
efficiently “How are you bagging everything?”, so we’ve got quite a system down and as in how
many bags can we fit in our crates and all, I mean, it’s all a numbers and down to the T and we’ve
got a very organized system and color coding different pallets but our team has done an
outstanding job of keeping it all organized and assigning everybody there are different roles. For
us to be able to assemble the items that aren’t pre-packaged for us, that’s been another
opportunity that we can utilize our current staffing because our numbers are so low at our
school sites, and then we only need so many staff on our buses every day.
● We have a pool of employees that we have available to us in a way that we can utilize those
staffing hours to assemble things that we already had in inventory, or that are less expensive.
The pre-packaged items that we can go ahead and package ourselves.

Are you finding it difficult to use commodities or is that we get into work?

Yeah. I think there’s been a lot of challenges in the commodity because our allocations were done
obviously prior to Nick, when we had our menu plans, January, February, last year for this year.

● Menuing a lot of the items that we had planned with our commodity allocations, because we’re
not cooking, preparing food on site, or we’re doing the book. We have been able to utilize some
of our commodities but the biggest challenge too, is that our numbers, our current numbers are
down so much that our usage is nowhere near what we had allocated, and I know this is a huge
concern to deal with because it’s not moving the poundage.

● We’re getting the notifications that we’ve got 200,000 pounds of beef that we haven’t utilized
because we’re not making meat sauce right now because we’re not preparing food. We’re
sending frozen items that families can easily heat up at home. I think this is a piece that I was
just on a call earlier today. How can we incorporate some items that maybe we hadn’t thought
about that we can incorporate to help utilize some commodities and other us foods that are
available that just aren’t moving because it’s not what operators are looking for.

● We definitely have shifted to more non-pre-packaged items again because we have our
centralized warehouse. We could make a lot of work, but we also still have that integrity of
quality and perception that we have to deal with from our customers and our families.
How about containers? I know that is one of the things that we were taught that kind of was talked
about early.

Yeah. We definitely have seen improvements in that area. I think that’s been one of the biggest
challenges with planning and menu planning is we have our plan, but then the truck doesn’t show up or
we get, it’s a half a truck instead of a whole truck that we ordered because there’s a supply chain issue
for sure.

Our school safety department has been another key partner in doing traffic control at some of our bus
stops and also at our weekly pickups. Our superintendent has led during this entire time and bringing all
the departments together consistently and planning and connecting. I think I said this the last time, I
have no issues kind of like inserting myself if I have to. I really think that at least in our district, I will say,

it’s been really amazing to see how well the communication has happened and we’ve developed a Covid
website and all the resources and materials and questions for all the departments and working without
family resources. We have these opportunities for free meals and the principals have been marketing the
marquee drivers.

What type of resources are you utilizing?

Our district has some training resources available to all district staff.

What type of work from home opportunities are you offering during these times?

When our school year started the new contract year for our staff depending on what type of employee,
they are 10-month or 12-month at the end of July, beginning of August. Our district identified essential
employees which means those that were required to work on site and not work remotely so food service
staff was one of the identified essential. Employees, as far as the cafeteria worker, can’t prepare food
from home or a bus driver can’t drive a bus from home so we were able to be flexible in the spring under
the governor’s order but that shifted when we started our new contract years. Our food service staffs
have been working on site since the new school year has started.

How are situations like that handled?

We have a district protocol that’s in line with an update as needed with the Pima county health
department and the CDC. I think our district’s done a great job. It’s literally a chart, it’s pretty cut and dry.
It gives you different scenarios.

If you’ve tested positive, if you’ve been exposed asymptomatic, or quarantined for 14 days, depending
on and then we also have our health services department.

What are you all doing in the district when that happens with someone?

Yeah. We have our district through the families first Corona-Virus Act. We have all of our district staff, has
that emergency paid sick leave time that is available to them to utilize for the various scenarios whether
they have to care for a child who can’t be at school or they’re in isolation, or they have CO-VID or a
member of their household, there’s different qualifying factors and then they can utilize that time and
then of course, their sick time or whatever other balances they might have available. Our district has
made that process.

I feel a very pretty simple form that you fill out as soon as you might have. The five for one of the
scenarios that you can utilize those sick hours that are provided to us for those exact scenarios and then
we have the criteria for family medical leaves all apply as well. We have some employees that have
chosen to take an LOA or medical leave.

Is there anything you’d like to close our viewers with for this episode?

I would just want to thank everybody in the industry and child nutrition and from manufacturers,
vendors, operators, staff. We’re all in this together even if we’re in different parts of the country or the
state.

I think the longer this goes on, we’ve all learned so much and I think our each day a little bit better
prepared for the moment but I think the only thing I would say is I’ve been trying a lot how can I best
prepare now that our whole world for the last nine months has been so vulnerable and just shifting
phone call that comes in at seven o’clock at night, “Oh, this is happening tomorrow.”, It’s like, “Oh my
gosh, you know, how am I going to pull this off?”, or so I think I’ve really just tried to come up with some
what are my backup plans? What if this happens, that happens kind of now knowing some of the
unknowns that we didn’t know before, what I’ve learned is how we can have a little bit more emergency
preparedness, I guess you would call it for.

In my world and that I interact with it’s you’re starting to feel that CO-VID effect again and this is all
happening again and it’s surging and it’s affecting everybody’s life again. Just trying to step back on all of
the things that we have so much to be grateful for and thankful for going into the holidays and staying
safe and appreciating what everybody does for sure.