Alternate Hot and Cold Lunches Give School Meal Program Production Predictability - CulinArt Group

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Alternate Hot and Cold Lunches Give School Meal Program Production Predictability

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.

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  • April 8, 2021
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“We want to take a moment to celebrate all the employees who worked on the front lines during unprecedented times. Your efforts and dedication to going above and beyond are noticed and appreciated. Thank you for being the heart and soul of CulinArt Group. We couldn’t do this without you. Chef Jay and Chef Paul have been so awesome in the Hubbell Café.  There has been significant change, but they take it in stride and keep the delicious food coming.  We truly appreciate them!”

“I wanted to recognize the individuals at the Valley Forge Site Café who have been supporting us throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic.  I have been onsite at least a few days every week since June 2020 and I noticed that the team continued to provide quality and timely service for breakfast and lunch.  They effectively packaged the food to maintain CDC guidelines. Thank you!  ”

“I will say that CulinArt has always been a very collaborative partner to T. Rowe Price, listening to our current needs and future goals and suggesting realistic and achievable strategies to meet those goals.  2020 was obviously no exception.  CulinArt also altered other areas of our OCS and pantry programs to create safer environments for all our associates. We can only thank you for your continued flexibility and innovative ideas through these difficult times.”

“Thanks so much for a great week of food here at SCH to start off 2021. Everything has been fantastic. The kids were loving the Chinese food and boxes today. The Moo Shu Pork was amazing. Great work!”

“I just wanted to touch base as another school year draws to end. I cannot thank you enough for how smoothly this year went. Chef Felix [Herrera] and his staff made it seamless in a year with lots of wrinkles.    ”

“We can’t thank you enough for all the time and effort you put into getting this emergency shipment of water to our Waco, Tx office. As always, you guys pulled out all the stops and did everything possible to help! I know it doesn’t seem like much to you, but our employees in TX that need drinking water are truly grateful. I feel so fortunate to work with such true professionals. I think you set the bar that your competition wishes they could match!”

“Dear Chef Anthony: Hi! It’s the kids from Room 223 [and their teacher, Mrs. Smith]. We thank you for providing us with such great snacks and lunches! We know how hard you and your staff work. We have been talking as a class and we came up with some of our favorite snacks. We really love the brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and Scooby snacks. The soft pretzel bits are really good, too. Thank you again! ”

“With all the prep work from Winterim ramping up and classes continuing as usual, it's a busy time to be a Forman teacher. Imagine my delight, tired as I was, when I delved into the upscale-restaurant-quality chicken parmesan our dining hall served last night. Forman is all about support, and providing our students with a dinner of that quality is just as important a measure of support as anything that happens in a classroom.”

“This has been a year of unprecedented uncertainty, but through it all, Denee, chef Darby, Samantha, and the whole CulinArt team, provided the best dining experience the school has had in my thirteen year tenure.  It was an absolute pleasure to work with them, and I can't wait for next year when the craziness of COVID brings everyone back into the dining hall for meals. We look forward to working with Denee, Chef Darby, Samantha, and the rest of the CulinArt team again next year.”

“Thank you and your staff for all the care and thought you give CSW adults and students. You approach events with such care and elegance- I don’t know how you do it! Especially day after day. Please thank all your staff for their wonderful work and kind manner with all of us. Here is to a great year!”

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