Connie Fatseas, food service director at Reynoldsburg City Schools, oversees 41 cooks who prepare lunch for 7,000 students and works with a cooperative food purchasing group.
"This next school year is going to be a scary time because prices are going up," Fatseas
said."A food cooperative is getting the best bang for commodity dollars."Fatseas
advised the first step is to choose the top 25 items and rotate them every month, which is something most districts already do.By having rotated items and knowing about how many students are partaking, those figures can be used to determine how much of something to purchase, such as Smuckers Uncrustables - the secondary entree choice at Reynoldsburg.
Each February, food service directors receive the amount of funds it will receive from the next school year from the U.S. Deaprtment
of Agriculture.Those commodity funds can be diverted to purchase different items, such as chicken can be sent to Tyson for chicken nuggets, probably the top school lunch at each school, or peanut butter commodities can be sent to Smuckers to make Uncrustables.
Although brand name products are typically more expensive, using commodities and purchasing through a cooperative lowers the price, Fatseas
said.For example, a case of cheese-filled bread sticks may cost $55 but through the cooperative $36, she
said.The process also eliminates the amount of raw meat entering the district and consequently, items are more ready-to-go, which cuts down on staff preparation time and saves money.
"I don't like raw foods coming into my building because it's too scary," Fatseas
said, explaining when they prepared Thanksgiving dinner by scratch, turkeys were in and out of the refrigerator four times before being cooked.
The cooperative also can ensure the cafeteria is getting foods students will eat and not automatically receiving items they can't move because students aren't receptive, Fatseas
"I can spend all of my commodity dollars and then some and get more of what I want and get rid of things that don't go so well with my kids," she
However, nothing is perfect, she
"If there is a downside, sometimes when I order if my distribution center is out of green beans, for example, then I have to turn my sheet over and order them from (Government Food Services)," she
said, adding that means the cost then increases for those items.
Although being part of a cooperative often costs an annual fee and per case delivery charges, there are savings through bulk purchasing and Fatseas
cited hundreds of dollars in rebate checks from companies for serving their foods.