Free School Meals May Drive New Equipment Needs

The Minnesota Department of Education is currently accepting applications for its National School Lunch Program equipment grant. The deadline to apply is June 2.

equipment-banner.pngEffective in SY23/24, Minnesota schools providing food service under the National School Lunch Program must provide free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of income, no application needed. This major change will affect every school differently, although the full extent is yet unknown.

While offering free meals to all students has clear advantages in terms of addressing food insecurity, improving nutrition, and enhancing academic performance, schools may encounter several challenges along the way. By anticipating and proactively addressing these challenges, schools can create a successful free meals program that benefits the entire student community.

The Minnesota Department of Education is continuing to work on the program details. In the meantime, we know most schools can expect an increase in students participating in school meals. Some schools will have to offer breakfast for the first time.

These two factors alone could mean your school will need to adjust service procedures and staffing levels, add another lunch period and purchase new equipment to efficiently serve more students. Your current bottlenecks, which will be magnified by increased volume, provide clues to what needs attention before free meals begin.  

Identifying Equipment Needs

How do you know what equipment you might need? Your needs will vary depending on the size of your school and if your food is prepared onsite or is delivered by CKC Good Food.

Here are some essential equipment considerations:

  1. Meal prep and service utensils.
  2. Walk-in coolers, refrigerators and freezers for storing perishable ingredients.
  3. Shelving units or racks to organize dry goods, breakfast foods and paper products.
  4. Serving counters or food stations to set up the meal service area.
  5. Warmers or heating equipment to keep prepared food items at the desired temperature.
  6. Mobile carts or trolleys for transporting food from the kitchen to the serving area.
  7. Waste disposal systems, including trash cans, recycling bins, and composting facilities.

If your school is new to offering breakfast, you may need:

  1. Breakfast Carts, which are a convenient means to implement grab-and-go breakfast in areas in the building where students enter or gather, such as major hallways or into or adjacent to classrooms. Breakfast carts keep food organized and easily accessible, making it easier to serve many students efficiently. They’re particularly helpful for schools with limited cafeteria space.
  2. Commercial Grade Food Warmers / Cook-and-Hold Ovens: If you plan to offer hot breakfast in the cafeteria, a cook-and-hold oven is a necessity for heating items such as breakfast sandwiches, burritos, or muffins and holding them at the ideal and safe serving temperature. The smell of food heating can be a powerful lure to get students to eat!
  3. Portable Salad Bars: If your school will be serving breakfast in the cafeteria, a portable salad bar might be an excellent way to offer an enticing display of colorful produce. Equipped with refrigeration and temperature control, these bars keep fruits and vegetables crisp and cool, while convenient compartments and serving utensils make it easy for students to create their own nutritious breakfast bowls.
  4. Refrigeration Units: Milk coolers or glass-front refrigeration units can be helpful for merchandising perishable breakfast items such as milk, yogurt, fruits and vegetables. Refrigeration units, in general, come in various sizes to suit your needs and space, from small under-counter refrigerators to large walk-in coolers.
  5. Bus Tubs: Breakfast-in-the-Classroom is the most fail-safe way to deliver breakfast to every student. If this is the service style you choose, bus tubs are great for organizing everything needed for each classroom. Simply load a tub with the appropriate number of pre-assembled breakfast bags from CKC Good Food, milk, napkins and any needed eating utensils, and deliver the tub to the classroom.

If you need help determining which equipment to consider, please ask your Client Services Manager.


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“Even though we are a small school, we are always treated as if we are the most important customer. To CKC, we matter and we appreciate the professionalism and quality of service from the entire CKC staff. ”
Barbara Dotty : Stonebridge Community School