What is COVID Costing You?

How to evolve your food service strategy without cutting corners or spending more.

Posted on November 9, 2020

The pandemic has clearly changed everyone’s day-to-day routine. For most, it’s created additional constraints. Specifically, in the school nutrition industry, it’s had a significant impact on both operational regulations and meal participation, which have led to unexpected financial strain.

In fact, according to recent research conducted by the School Nutrition Association (SNA), 53.9% of surveyed programs are now operating at a financial loss.*

Managing a school lunch program on budget is a constant challenge–especially now. However, the current environment does not have to control the outcome of your school nutrition program. Below, we’ve compiled the biggest cost concerns that school nutrition programs are facing today and ways to adjust your approach to both improve participation and stay within your operating budget during these unprecedented times.


1. Safety doesn’t mean quality has to decline.

Many schools turn to cutbacks as they make moves toward simplicity to manage hectic times, such as reducing the use of fresh ingredients and made-from-scratch food preparation. However, at Whitsons, we remain focused on quality, and have built solutions to address the needs of students during the pandemic, while providing them with the nourishment they need as a foundation for academic success without sacrificing district budgets.

With over forty years of experience in prepared meals, service modifications, such as pre-packaged meals and mobile options, do not equate to lower quality. Students receive the same wholesome food, prepared onsite from scratch daily, as they always have; the only change is in how meals are presented in individualized packaging for safer consumption. In fact, even though SNA research finds that the use of locally sourced foods has increased by 7% overall, Whitsons surpasses that benchmark that by continuing to offer over 50% of ingredients from local sources.


Gardner, MA Meals2. Ensuring that students enjoy the meals we are serving.

Today’s day-to-day is unpredictable, fluid and always changing. How can you continuously adapt to provide meals that students would be interested in eating?

By offering creative ways to feed hungry students. That means innovative solutions for full service, virtual and hybrid models, and all kinds of delivery options, from pickup, bus delivery, classroom delivery and beyond! Whitsons’ Simply Safe Dining Plan address it all and includes enhanced safety procedures, new equipment and technology recommendations for a variety of service models, including: modified cafeteria meal service, in-classroom meals, common area meal distribution and Tastefully Plated® on-the go meals for in school, on the school bus or at home delivery consumption. No matter the meal option, parents can expect their child, or children, to continue enjoying a variety of their favorite meal choices from our kid-approved menus and recipes.


3. Using your resources wisely to control costs.

Whitsons has the resources to help school districts adapt in safe ways that don't cut corners and ensure the fiscal responsibility that districts are looking for. Our management team constantly benchmarks program performance and provides recommendations so the administration can make timely, informed decisions about the food service program. We use our purchasing power, systems and expertise to procure local products specifically designed for schools, while passing along volume savings. We also have a team of resources to support the onsite operations team in streamlining their budgets in areas such as: nutrition, culinary, training/development, marketing, procurement and program management.


Miss Rubys Grill4. Offering innovative ideas to create engaging dining environments.

With little impact on the bottom line, we can implement value-added programs that will engage students and increase participation. Our line of Tastefully Plated® branded meals, featuring both hot entrees and ready-to-eat sandwiches, are designed to complement onsite meals and offer a wider variety of options. We have also implemented mobile outside kiosks with tents to enable students to safely dine in the fresh air, while providing them with a much-needed outlet for safe socialization. Other solutions have included creative pop-up style promotions, outdoor Nutrition Safari® character visits, colorful display plates of meals and vivid signage to entice students to participate more in the nutrition program.


While many view COVID as a major headwind for their school meal operation, Whitsons turns your approach into a tailwind. Start a conversation with one of our representatives today to determine which cost areas in your current program could benefit from an upgrade to the ‘Whitsons standard.’


*Source: School Nutrition Association – Impact of Covid-19 on School Nutrition Program: Back to School 2020