When you choose to make a change, accepting the work is the first step.
Change is not an easy proposition to make. It involves planning, a period of trial and error, and a period of adjustment and acceptance. Then, you rinse and repeat.
When a manager or director of a child feeding program chooses to make a significant change in their program, the prospect of an increased workload, combined with the effort needed to make successful and cost-effective changes can feel arduous. Making changes to a prescriptive feeding program involves a series of decisions, which at any time can cause a domino effect, and in short, nothing less than a disaster. This apprehension of uncharted waters and the daunting work ahead can bring about what I refer to as the false start syndrome.
Enlightened managers who want to shift the balance on the lunch tray and create a healthier way to engage kids at mealtime can sometimes become a deer in the headlights once they’ve made the commitment.
This happens more than one would think.
As program manager for the Illinois Farm to School Network, I see false start syndrome happen to the most determined managers in feeding sites large and small. As a former school food service director, I understand the immense workload tied to the overwhelming program regulations and requirements.
This is not Grandma’s kitchen, nor is the process of program management open for interpretation.
Nevertheless, I chose to make changes to my school programs and trudged through the extra workload to make those changes successful.
I’m not saying this was an easy thing to do. In fact, it took two years of trial and error and rewriting my original plans to create the program I believed my kids deserved. My vision didn’t stop at procuring locally and posting cafeteria signage. I wanted more.
It took months of training and elevating all of my staff to take on these changes. After all, change touches everyone and everything. From the lunchline computer operators to the janitorial staff who maintained the commons area, to the many kitchen staff and the van drivers delivering to satellite sites, to the kids themselves. Everything, attitudes and perceptions alike, eventually changed.
How did I do it?
I got past that scary starting point. I jumped in and developed a plan of attack to bring in local, whole foods from area producers and begin to cook fresh foods once again.
It took longer days to visualize, research, and write down the processes needed to begin scratch cooking in my kitchens.
It took multiple seasonal bids and conversations with local growers to develop our local foods procurement process.
It took fundraising and school policy changes to make food service the authority on food again.
It took training, and then more training for staff.
It took dedicated staff members and an even more dedicated administrator to see this vision become a reality.
It took patience and it took time.
I shared my vision with everyone. My then determined kitchen staff went from opening boxes and cans and loading ovens to cooking recipes in tilt skillets and floor kettles.
There were months of adjustments and what we commonly referred to as the rollercoaster of food waste- first rising frighteningly, and then dropping like a stone leaving us stomachless, dizzy, and giddy.
My staff persevered through late afternoon meetings and yet more adjustments to our routine and process, rearranging cafe service lines and incorporating self-service everywhere possible to free them up for valuable prep and cooking time.
Eventually, with our feet under us, my newly minted staff began sharing recipes from treasured family cookbooks for consideration and conversion into the program. They ran taste tests and recipe surveys with a sense of pride that previously was not evident. They took possession of a burgeoning program that involved the students, the staff, and families at home. They truly owned it.
And, our kids? As we reduced the frequency of exposure to heavily processed foods, their taste for whole, fresh foods grew. Parents took notice. Staff lined up with our kids to buy lunch. And, neighboring districts began to ask “how”?
I got past my initial false start syndrome.
I’m so glad I did.