We have all heard the harsh stereotypes around cafeteria food like the infamous “mystery meat” meal or the discolored mash, but Lunchtime Solutions is actively working to change the narrative. The company is a food service provider for breakfast and lunch programs in schools throughout the Midwest that strives to create nutritional and appetizing options on the menu.
In our community, Lunchtime Solutions works with Aberdeen Public and Aberdeen Catholic school systems to assist in maintaining various aspects of their food programs.
“This is all we do. There are other food service management companies out there that have multiple lines of business,” Area Director at Lunchtime Solutions Nic Lucart said. “We only focus on K-12 food service. We have made it our mission, and we want to be the best at it.”
The food service provider uses a standardized process adapted to each school and its needs. Because the Aberdeen Public and Catholic schools partner with Lunchtime Solutions, they have access to a larger network that offers better pricing and technology. From purchasing and procurement to maintaining state and federal food guidelines to managing menu designs and kitchen equipment, Lunchtime Solutions can handle it all.
“We have an amazing team whose passion for all things food service and culinary make the challenges more fun and the creative new ideas even that much more rewarding,” Deni Winter, vice president of business development/marketing and purchasing at Lunchtime Solutions, said.
Partnering with Lunchtime Solutions opens up the opportunities for the school systems to offer more for their students with less day-to-day management from the school leaders, allowing them to focus on teaching and supporting the students in the classroom while Lunchtime Solutions manages the food programs.
“Lunchtime chooses to partner with schools that share in their core values,” Deni said. “We truly believe that creating long-term, successful partnerships that foster a good culture and support our teams and mission is invaluable.”
Here in Aberdeen, Lunchtime Solutions’s partnership includes 12 schools between Aberdeen Public and Aberdeen Catholic.
Partnerships in Aberdeen
Lunchtime Solutions first came to Aberdeen in 2013 to partner with the Aberdeen Catholic School System. And with the ever-changing regulations and policies placed on school breakfast and lunch programs, the assistance from an external company proved advantageous.
“They have given us more food options than we could have offered due to their ability to buy in large quantities,” Vickie Haiar, Roncalli’s business manager, said. “… Running a food service program is not easy, but hiring a company that specializes in food service has made it easier for a school our size.”
And in 2021, Lunchtime Solutions also partnered with Aberdeen Public Schools, adding nine more schools to its Aberdeen district.
Once a self-operated food program, Aberdeen Public chose this company based on prior performances in other schools and how they plan and prepare student meals. The transition to Lunchtime Solutions was smooth, and many of the previous employees stayed in the district.
“What they had was working great. They have fantastic people,” Food Service Director Erika McLeod said. The feedback from the employees was invaluable as Lunchtime Solutions began learning about their current system and started adding its own touch to the programs.
“The teams who have been working in the kitchens for a number of years were doing a wonderful job,” Deni elaborated. “They have helped us tremendously to understand the students’ wants and needs and what they like. When we partner with a school, we always want the local kitchen staff to stay on as part of the program.”
When discussing how the company manages both school systems in the district, Erika explained that the success of the partnership of all schools and Lunchtime Solutions is communication.
“We have developed a fantastic relationship with Lunchtime,” Dr. Becky Guffin, superintendent of Aberdeen Public, said. “They are open to our feedback and have gone above and beyond to provide quality meals to our students every day in spite of several challenges with supply chain issues and ongoing COVID protocols.”
Even in the middle of a pandemic, Aberdeen Public and Aberdeen Catholic schools have one main goal in common with Lunchtime Solutions, and that is to give the children nutritious meals and educate them on healthy choices.
A Student-First Approach
With as many regulations placed on school lunch programs as there are today, the process of finding exciting meals and expanded options can be difficult. However, with the mission to fuel the minds of the future, Lunchtime Solutions works hard to create enjoyable menus for the students and build their knowledge of food.
“We strive for our programs to not only gain student participation but to offer students choices that they like. Nourish not only their bodies but their minds, too, so that schools can focus on the goals that they are there to accomplish—to educate and support students,” Deni said.
Lunchtime Solutions’s partnership with the school extends to the students as they are the primary “customer.” With high school and middle school students receiving multiple options—hot and cold—for their main course and elementary schools offering the choice of either one hot or one cold meal, the students’ choices have increased since the switch from self-operated programs, and workers value the students’ feedback.
“Not only do students have choices, but students also have a voice on those choices. Students are surveyed and are allowed to come to meetings involving giving feedback about the options,” Deni explained. “Students also benefit from choices and the unlimited fruit and veggie bar with every meal.”
The unlimited fruit and vegetables bar is a big crowd favorite at all grade levels. The large variety of fruits and vegetables exposes children to healthy snacks that they might not see outside school, like kiwi. If students are not full from their main dish, they can keep eating from the fruit and vegetable bar instead of trying to learn on an empty stomach in the afternoon, building healthy eating habits.
“We are passionate about educating children on nutrition and giving them options that allow them to focus on the right foods to consume each day to perform at their highest level,” Erika said.
When available, Lunchtime Solutions even brings in produce from local growers, showing students that healthy options are accessible while also involving and supporting the community.
“We have had tremendous feedback from both students and parents about having a choice and the nice variety of options that are provided each day,” Becky said. “We have students who are eating school breakfast and/or lunch who have never participated in the program in previous years.”
Lunchtime Solutions is dedicated to the students at Aberdeen Public and Aberdeen Catholic schools in not only providing quality meals but also going the extra mile and building the foundation for students to learn about food in the classroom and apply it to their lifestyles.
Nic concluded, “We are just really happy to be here, and we are proud of what we do. We are proud to be a part of the district and look forward to doing it for a long time.” //
In the Midst of a Pandemic
COVID-19 has continually been at the forefront of all news outlets and daily conversations. Affecting the distribution processes across the nation, the food industry has been greatly affected by product and labor shortages. As a food service provider in the Midwest, Lunchtime Solutions has seen the changes and how it impacts schools in different areas of the country.
How have our Aberdeen schools, who are partnered with Lunchtime Solutions, been affected by the supply chain issues? Deni Winters observed, “Aberdeen is in a unique situation compared to the rest of our customers.”
Lunchtime Solutions partners with Cash-Wa Distributing (CWD) as their main grocery supplier, and luckily for Aberdeen, we have a CWD center in town. All the product that the Aberdeen Public and Aberdeen Catholic schools receive is locally distributed. The proximity to the warehouse speeds up the delivery process and makes it easy for food workers to drive to CWD if an item in their order was forgotten.
And if the schools are short one or two items, Lunchtime Solutions has house accounts set up with local grocers Ken’s and Kessler’s to purchase items that are low on inventory to meet the schools’ needs until the next bulk of products is delivered through CWD.
With purchasing and compliance departments that track data like inventory and supply chain trends, Lunchtime Solutions is able to continue to feed nutritious meals to students in Aberdeen without any significant changes caused by the national supply chain issues.