Prep Now for Back-to-School Night 2015-07-07Beginning next month, students in some parts of the country are strapping on their backpacks and climbing onto the school bus—and that means back-to-school night is just around the corner. If you don’t already take advantage of such events to introduce parents to the school nutrition department and show them all the great things your staff does on a daily basis, then it’s high time to get involved. There’s no guidebook for the “right” way to represent the department on these occasions, giving you full creativity to find ways to make a positive—and lasting—impression of school meals and your team. First, why should you participate in these evening activities? To start, this is your best chance to discuss nutrition, portion sizes, allergies, finances and other important facets of the school meal program—and to do so when you’re not in the middle of a busy service period during the day. Clarifying meal payment options is a particularly beneficial use of this time. “It is an excellent opportunity for us to talk about the great meal service options we provide, as well as features such as online payments and account monitoring,” says Linette Dodson, PhD, RD, LD, SNS, director of School Nutrition, Carrollton City (Ga.) Schools. Some directors even report seeing an immediate increase in revenue following back-to-school-night activities! “[Being involved in back-to-school night] increases participation in the program and, as a result, increases revenue right from the beginning,” notes Gail Koutroubas, director of Food and Nutrition Services, Andover, (Mass.) Public Schools. Some districts also use these events to collect applications for free/reduced meals. These events are a terrific opportunity to address negative misperceptions and stigma about school meals. At schools in Carrollton City, the cafeteria manager and assistant staff stations and answer questions. In Andover, Koutroubas’ department provides samples from the lunch menu. In the Hickman Mills (Mo.) School District, Foodservice Director Leah Schmidt, SNS, an SNA Past President, makes her team available to discuss menu options and work with the nursing staff to assist families who have children with food allergies. In all three of these school districts, menus and nutrition education materials are provided for the parents to take home. By being present at back-to-school-night activities, school nutrition departments can leave area parents with a positive first impression. Negative associations with school meals can be changed at the outset and you can foster parent partnerships that will pay off throughout the entire year.