Starting At A New School Can Be Tough, But the Cafeteria Is Easy

The first day of school can come with some anxiety and many questions, but the cafeteria doesn’t have to be intimidating for new students. In May, fifth and eighth grade students in the Yankton School District in Yankton, SD, go through an orientation process, practicing walking through lunch lines and choosing their school meals.

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Food service professionals in Yankton School District (SD) say that directional signage and new student orientation helps ease back to school anxiety for students learning to navigate the cafeteria for the first time.

Students who start during the school year are often guided by an older current student, making sure the cafeteria is a place of positivity for the middle and high schools.

Each summer, future kindergarten students are encouraged to attend a promotional Summer Food program with their parents or guardians, helping to familiarize themselves with school lunch and navigating the cafeteria. And, getting feedback from students and parents doesn’t end there.

“One thing we do during the school year is invite parents to lunch and we give them surveys,” said Child Nutrition and Concessions Supervisor Sandi Kramer. “We take every survey comment seriously and at the end of the year, I send to the principals to read comments from their school. They are usually very good comments and it is to our benefit to share.”

Feedback is incorporated and menus are constantly changing with improved flavors and unique options, such as buffalo cauliflower. The district sells four times more buffalo cauliflower when its offered than when it was served just steamed.

Menus are constantly changing depending on what’s available within the limited local growing season. Menu options are also rotated with occasional breaks in service to assess student interest and help ramp up demand for its return to the serving line.

They promote new menu options through signage, websites and on cafeteria menus, both online and in the school. Switching up serving tools and incorporating more visually appealing (and dishwasher-safe) wicker baskets instead of using traditional institutional way of serving food has helped engage more students as well, said Kramer. Her advice to staff is to always look at what can be improved and to try to look at the cafeteria with new eyes. The feeling and look of the cafeteria is part of the overall food service experience, just like food taste and menu options.

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Always right there for help, food service professionals create a welcoming environment while providing access to help any students with questions.

“Cloths can dress up serving lines and  be changed for the seasons,” she said. “See what others see and you don’t… Take a picture, and look at it… Don’t always use the same bowls or pans. And do not leave the same posters and signs up all year.”

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