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How to Run a School Cafeteria

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A school cafeteria, alive with the clack of trays, din of conversation and busy atmosphere, exudes the appearance of controlled chaos. However, behind the scenes, the cafeteria is a tightly run ship. When the responsibility of feeding hundreds of children and dozens of staff members each day falls on your shoulders, planning and organization are the keys to success.

Ensure that each member of the cafeteria staff, including cooks, cashiers, servers and dishwashers, is fully trained. Distribute written job descriptions that detail the responsibilities of each position, and communicate policy and procedure changes to the cafeteria workers, both verbally and in writing. Hold regular training sessions that maintain morale and hone skills.

Ensure that servers practice proper portion control by measuring each serving correctly. Costs are always a concern in any school system, and dishing out over-sized portions raises food costs needlessly and adds unnecessary calories to the students' meals.

Create balanced menus that meet Federal, state and local guidelines for school lunches. Federal guidelines exist to ensure that students nationwide receive optimal nutritional benefits from school lunches and less empty calories -- those with no nutritional value. Obtain a copy of the guidelines your school is required to follow from the district administration, and follow them to the letter.

Practice proper food preparation methods to eliminate allergic responses in children with food sensitivity issues. Monitor food ingredients by reading labels and avoid cross-contamination -- the mixing of allergen-free food with allergens such as wheat, dairy and legumes -- by dedicating a special part of the kitchen to the preparation of foods. Keep allergen-free foods covered and stored in clean containers that have not come in contact with allergens, and serve them with utensils that meet the same standards.

Avoid waste by purchasing the proper amount of food and ingredients. Food that spoils before it is used is another needless cost that strapped school districts need not incur. Many school districts now use computer programs that track inventory, calculate food costs and alert cafeteria managers of the need to replace depleted items.


Approach your school board about implementing a pre-paid lunch program if you don't already have one in place. Pre-paid lunches avoid time-consuming holdups in the lunch line that occur when a student stops to search for lost or misplaced lunch money.


Realize that serving an allergic child a prohibited food can have possible life-threatening consequences and expose the school district to a possible lawsuit.