A useful strategy for improving our school meal programs is to elicit feedback from other school food experts. Who are these other school food experts? Why, they are the directors and managers from our neighboring school districts, of course! Such reviews can help identify what we are doing well and point out how we can improve.
In Maine, school nutrition directors from various regions gather 4 times a year to provide a peer to peer review of a meal service operation. We gather just before lunch begins so we have the opportunity to observe where students enter the cafeteria and how they proceed through the service line and point of sale. We stick around to see what the students actually eat and to observe what the meals from home look like. And finally, we stand by the trash can to see what gets thrown away.
During the observation, we use a checklist (attached below) to remind us to look at various aspects of the program such as flow, noise level, cleanliness, and signage. After the observation, we gather in a meeting room to share observations, highlighting our responses to the open ended questions on the checklist. Finally, we turn in our checklists to the director whose cafeteria we visited.
This strategy brings a fresh set of eyes to our programs and provides valuable feedback. Our checklist is based on best practices and helps remind us all of small improvements we can make. The peer review process is a win-win for all participants, as most observers find at least one thing that they want to bring back to their own cafeterias!
Consider employing this approach by contacting other directors from your county to see if they are interested. It’s important to point out that this isn’t an ‘evaluation’ or an ‘audit’. It’s simply colleagues helping colleagues. Teaming up strengthens our combined efforts to ensure students across the state have access to healthy school meals.
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