4 ways we help nutrition programs do more with less

Posted by Emily Schoeneck on May 10, 2024 12:32:00 PM

According to
SNA’s 2024 School Nutrition Trends Report, schools shared that staff shortages and rising costs are their programs' top two challenges. As schools look to navigate through these roadblocks, time is a valuable resource. Choosing which Point of Sale System you’re going to implement for your nutrition program is a big decision, and there are many things to consider. Let’s take a look at a few of the features that will not only help you run a smooth program, but save you time along the way. 

Faster Serving Lines

With limited staff, your cashier's time during serving periods may feel crunched. Mealtimes are busy, and you want to make sure all students have enough time to be fed. Getting students through the line efficiently helps alleviate pressure for your cashiers and means students can spend maximum time enjoying meals with their classmates.

By utilizing quick checkout modes in your Point of Sale,  your cashiers can more easily close out transactions and keep the lines moving.  These are a few of the popular features in our Point of Sale system: 

Group Sales
Group sales is a convenient feature to help make sure students don’t get stuck spending too much time in the lunch line. Say you have a whole class of kindergarteners coming into the cafeteria. Instead of each student having to enter their account number, your cashiers can go down a list of names and easily select them by photo. If you’d rather avoid a trip to the cafeteria, you can also provide a meal in the classroom with group sales. 

Auto Meals
Auto meals give you the option to order ahead of time, which can be great for big groups or to guarantee you have a specific item available.

If space allows, set up your serving line to allow students to come through on both sides of your cashier with dual-serving. With this feature, a cashier can have a student on each side of the register enter their information on a pin pad, and the system will ensure that each student is getting charged correctly. 

Dual serving mode in Mosaic Point of Sale

Reduce the use of cash and checks in line
With a meal payment system that integrates directly into your POS, you’re able to reduce the need for students to pay by cash or check in the lunch line. Instead, a student can punch in their PIN and have the money come right out of their account. 

Simplified Eligibility App Processing

Collecting eligibility applications can be a lengthy process filled with overwhelming paperwork. To make things more efficient, it’s important to have a system that can help simplify the process. Using an online application platform results in less paperwork that must be collected, organized, and managed, saving you time. Our online application platform, MySchoolApps, integrates with our Heartland Point of Sale systems. This means you won’t have to spend time scanning the paperwork, as it will all be imported digitally through the integration process and can be done in multiple languages. There are also tools to make direct certification easy by matching the student information into your system, with direct import into the Point of Sale system too. 

Cost Management

When it comes to doing more with less, your program can also maximize its budget. With the right software programs, you can access tools and reports that give you key information that allows you to augment your budget, such as increasing participation, controlling plate costs, and maximizing reimbursements.

Increasing Participation
More students participating in school meals ultimately means more revenue for your program. That’s why knowing what’s selling well and what’s most popular is important. With your POS, you can track Item Profitability to easily see, at a glance, what items are selling well and which ones are making more profit for your program. When it comes to finances, even small tweaks to selecting your most profitable and popular items can make a big difference on your bottom line. 

Outside of sales reports, you can also go right to the source. With our digital menus platform, MealViewer, you can gather feedback directly from students. The app allows students to star their favorite meals and use sliding emojis to rate each item. By knowing what students like, you can ensure you’ll build menus they’ll love. 


Optimizing Cost Per Plate
Increasing participation helps to bring in more to your program, but it’s also important to optimize your plate costs to manage expenses. Take a look at your per-plate costs and determine how you can optimize by opting for a more affordable ingredient. Remember, even pennies saved can have huge implications on your per-plate cost. With our Heartland Back of House systems, you can easily swap recipe ingredients in real time to see how changes would impact your per-plate cost and nutritional components. This can be helpful in a number of ways. For instance, if you’re unable to get a certain ingredient you can see what other options are available and can be swapped in, or you can choose a different ingredient to decrease the cost per meal.

 Maximizing Reimbursements
The last large piece of the financial puzzle is ensuring your program maximizes the reimbursements it qualifies for. With features like Household Eligibility Extensions, you can quickly extend meal eligibility statuses across students within the same household, ensuring that every household student is recognized for the correct eligibility status. 

Additionally, for statuses that need to be changed, our Meal Eligibility Corrections feature allows administrators to correct eligibility statuses retroactively. This correction also ensures that the student’s balance is adjusted correctly and claims are submitted accurately for reimbursement.. 

Flexible Serving

As programs have shifted over recent years, many schools find they’re serving in new ways, even outside the cafeteria. While resources may be tight, having the right solutions can help ensure your program can serve and track meals all in one system. With features that allow you to collect orders in advance and offer meals in the classroom, you can ensure your students are well-fed while knowing all the right information is still going into your POS system. 

Serving in the classroom or on-the-go
Being able to serve a meal in the classroom or on-the-go is a useful option where teachers can keep track of who is participating. With a feature such as this, you can take your program right to wherever your students are while still making sure all of their transactions are in the system and accounted for.

Reimbursable Vending
Serve reimbursable meals without adding another cashier and serving line. More schools are looking into reimbursable vending to help fulfill the large number of meals that need to be served. With reimbursable vending, students can swipe their meal card and purchase a meal that follows the proper nutrition guidelines right from a vending machine. The sales from these can be tied right to your  POS so the funds can come right out of their meal account, and you can keep track of what each student has purchased. 

Communicating with Families and Students

Effective communication with students and their families is crucial when it comes to school meals. Whether you’re sharing the menu for the month with families, communicating allergen information, or even just posting the menu in the cafeteria, this takes valuable time and resources.

With digital menus, communicating meals becomes infinitely easier.  Skip the costs for printing paper menus by utilizing digital menus that parents and students can easily access online or from their phones. These menus showcase what’s being served and provide details on nutrition and allergens. Now more than ever, parents want to know the nutritional facts of what’s being served and ensure food allergies are avoided. Making it all available online can help reduce parent concerns and increase participation. Plus, if there’s ever a last-minute menu change, you can make it in real-time for parents to see live instead of having to manage to adjust menus that have already been posted or distributed physically.

Digital and mobile-friendly menus

Outside of what’s being served, your program also needs to communicate meal balance information. With an integrated meal payments system, there’s even more you can do to reinforce communication between your district and the parents. You can utilize features like low payment reminders so parents are made aware when their student’s balance is getting low and prompted to make a payment before their balance goes negative. 

Dealing with staff shortages while juggling the crucial task of managing students' school nutrition leaves little time in the day. By partnering with a supportive nutrition software program, you not only save time but also maximize your limited resources. It's essential to choose a program that can stretch your budget, especially during these times of rising costs. Don't let the stress of managing everything take away from what matters most: the students.

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Topics: School Nutrition Regulation, School Lunch