As published in Food Management, April 7, 2021 – CulinArt meal program at the Cambridge School has adapted to COVID-19 restrictions with packaged meals, safe dining spaces and an innovative alternating lunch system that reduces waste and production uncertainty.
Tony Penezic runs the CulinArt-operated meal program at the Cambridge School, a private boarding/day school in Weston, Mass., with some 300 students that is now conducting in-person classes. At a time when meal programs face uncertainty about participation from day to day because of hybrid schedules, meal pickup inconsistencies and differing demand for various items, Penezic has some production certainty thanks to a program he developed at the start of the current school year.
The approach is simple—his kitchen prepares about the same number of hot lunches and cold lunches each day and students are divided into two groups, with one group getting the hot lunch on Mondays and Thursdays and a cold lunch on Tuesdays and Fridays, while the other group follows the opposite schedule, with the groups and offerings alternating on Wednesdays—a virtual instruction day—every week.
“It’s easy planning,” Penezic offers. “We know we have to make the 130 to 140 lunch boxes one day and about the same number of hot lunches, and then it switches the next day.”
The system allows not only production efficiency for the staff and reduces waste but also has found favor with the customers. “It gives students the opportunity to all get the same foods, just not at the same time,” Penezic explains, conceding that “it’s not something we would ordinarily do.”
There is little excess as a consequence of the predictable production, mostly due to a few kids not wanting lunch that day, but that is fairly minimal.
The hot lunch consists of a hot entrée plus sides while the cold lunch is a variety of grab-and-go sandwiches and salads. All the lunch items are served packaged for take away and are eaten outside the dining hall.
The 2020-2021 school started slowly at Cambridge School, with some three dozen boarding students coming back at the end of August, along with about the same number of faculty and staff. They began the year with about three weeks of virtual classes before the rest of the student body—about 300 kids—was called back for mostly full-time in-person instruction.
The alternating hot and cold item system is only used at lunchtime, when day students are present. Resident students eat their breakfasts and dinners in the dining hall with Plexiglas barriers separating them at tables, which are each limited to two seats.
Breakfasts and dinners always include a hot option with everything served by staff in to-go containers, unlike the pre-COVID era, when self-serve bars were the standard approach.
Penezic has been with CulinArt and its parent company Compass Group for five years, having previously served in college and independent school meal programs with a couple of other management companies.