Survey Says…More Cooking Equipment Reflections From Operators

In “Cooked to Perfection” in the March 2016 issue of School Nutrition, author Cecily Walters presents findings on what the school nutrition operators we talked to value most about their cooking equipment, including conventional ovens, ranges, braisers, combi ovens, steamers and the like. Respondents also shared their frustrations and priorities related to these kitchen essentials. We received so many great responses—and pieces of advice—from our respondents that we’re including some of them here in Bonus Web Content.

Customer Service From Vendors

One-third of school nutrition professionals who responded indicated that the quality of customer service from the vendor in the case of a problem is not to be overlooked. If a problem arises, “It's very important to have the support from the vendor and the manufacturer's representative. They need to stand by the warranty and want to know if we're having challenges,” reports Sara Gasiorowski, SNS, child nutrition director for Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, Ind.

Power Source

While the operators who provided responses for this article did not identify the power source for their cooking equipment as a top frustration or as an attribute they would prioritize when purchasing new equipment, it does play a role in the successful functioning of some respondents’ current kitchens. Lisa Sims, school nutrition director for Daviess County Public Schools in Owensboro, Ky., values that her cooking equipment works with her operation’s existing power sources. “We only have so many power sources, and adding additional power can be quite expensive,” she explains.

Joanne Kinsey, SNS, director of school nutrition services for Chesapeake (Va.) Public Schools, also commented about power sources, citing that her district is working to convert its buildings to gas when feasible. “Our school division is focused on energy conservation and cost reduction for utility usage. New equipment is spec’d for gas connection as buildings are converted. Along with that, ENERGY STAR® equipment is always a must,” she emphasizes.

Other Responses of Note

In addition to those already detailed, a variety of other attributes related to school nutrition cooking equipment were valued and prioritized by respondents, though were not as frequently cited as those already mentioned. These less-frequently cited attributes include: ease of cleaning, recommendations or endorsements from colleagues, footprint/size and training provided by the vendor.

In some cases, respondents chose to fill in their own answers for the attributes they found valuable or frustrating or considered priorities. For example, when equipping a new kitchen, Brad Trudeau, SNS, director of student nutrition services for Garland (Texas) Independent School District, explains that he would make sure to find equipment that “conforms with other equipment currently in use. We have our own repair technicians and do not need 15 different brands of ovens to repair,” he says.

Several respondents detailed the funding difficulties many school nutrition programs face in obtaining new cooking equipment. Anji Baumann, CDM, CFPP, child nutrition director for Gooding and Shoshone School Districts in Gooding, Idaho, notes that “the lack of adequate or available funding to secure new equipment [is a challenge] in an already financially struggling program.” Likewise, Joanne Kinsey references the fact that “equipment budgets have been reduced due to the need to focus dollars on the increased food and supply costs local operators face.” She avers, “Additional funding sources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for equipment purchases would be extremely beneficial to school foodservice operations.”

April Laskey, SNS, director of school nutrition for Billerica (Mass.) Public Schools, offers some advice from her own experience with financing equipment purchases that may be useful for other school nutrition operators. “When looking for funding, I often hope that there are grants available. And I work closely with our business manager to include kitchen equipment needs in any capital expense improvements when possible.”

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