Nardin Academy takes a holistic approach to its foodservice program. 

The model that I suggest in making cafeteria change is all encompassing. This holistic approach supports the financial changes in moving to fresh, higher quality foods but also addresses other environmental and social implications of our food system.

With a new menu and kitchen staff, a new program can easily become about just the food. Reducing waste, using real plates, and serving condiments in bulk are examples of initiatives that can become side notes to the more obvious changes in food. It is important to keep these aspects of a sustainable food program in focus, and that is what Nardin Academy worked on once the busy first weeks of its new self-operated program subsided.

Waste separation at Nardin-2Seventh grade students at Nardin Academy measured the waste recorded in the school’s cafeteria and charted them over periods of time. This helped them learn about the concept of waste reduction.

Leslie Johnson, vice president of finance and operations, said that the most important aspect of success in their transition to self-op was communication. Talking about the program again and again and again helped keep the conversation focused and stakeholders clear on why certain things were happening in the cafeteria aside from healthy, flavorful food. Ongoing communication is still happening at the school.

As previously discussed, Nardin Academy was surprised that the majority of pushback came from the teachers and adults at the school. They had gotten used to certain systems. For example, staff was used to placing catering orders externally and was not quick to consider using the school’s new dining service for catering. Communication helped remind staff about this resource and the benefits of purchasing internally and supporting the new program. Catering orders continue to increase.

The chef met with three high school classes to talk about what was working and what was not working in the cafeteria and gave them the opportunity to engage. This type of participation and reiteration helps to align changes in the cafeteria to other concepts students are learning in the classroom.

By having an ongoing conversation, curriculum found its way into the cafeteria, and teachers started teaching healthy food choices. Beyond Green made a documentary short around this time of year called More than Food. This speaks to the environment of the school once the program had been in place for a semester and the types of happenings school staff observed in conjunction.

One example is the measuring of waste. At the beginning of the year students had been asked how much waste they thought the cafeteria generated in a day. They had no idea. Later in the year, seventh grade math classes took the waste measurements recorded in the cafeteria and charted them over periods of time. Students were able to see the fluctuations in generation to grasp the concept of waste reduction (and learn math in the process). You can read more about their findings here: waste data in math class.

Regarding the food, the high school student council conducted dining hall surveys. They found out how often students bought lunch, what their favorite items were and what were some things they wanted to see on the menu. Looking at sales in the POS system can also provide insights. For example, leadership was able to notice an increase in younger students purchasing lunch during the winter menu cycle.

Feedback from the board is also extremely important at independent schools. I met with them in December 2014 and received an ovation acknowledging the accomplishments of the new food program. Nardin Academy decided the cafeteria would be the focus of the school’s annual fundraiser. This proved that the continuous conversations had created support and excitement for not only those eating at the school every day but the parents and community as well.