Changes to cafeteria processes at Thomas and Indian Run save time and money

Last school year, Thomas and Indian Run Elementary were chosen as pilot schools for a project intended to make the lunch process more efficient for teachers and cafeteria staff.

During the 2016-2017 school year, under the guidance of Dublin City Schools' Coordinator of Operational Excellence Nathan Rohyans, Luis Visoso, a lean six sigma green belt intern from The Ohio State University, conducted a project in the hopes of reducing the amount of food waste that was generated during school lunches.

Lean Six Sigma is a managerial philosophy used by many of the world’s leading private sector companies, including many located within our District. It is a data-driven problem solving methodology resulting in an improved process or outcome when deployed correctly.

"It was revealed that at the elementary level, Dublin City Schools was experiencing a high amount of food waste due to an ineffective way of determining what each student wanted to eat for lunch," said Rohyans.

Historically, elementary teachers would ask each student what they wanted based on four different choices and then would have to submit that information to the cafeteria staff. The cafeteria staff would then make estimates of how much food to make based on the students' choices. However, once students got to the lunch line, they would often change their mind and get something else to eat, creating excess food that would have to be wasted.

At the beginning of the project, Visoso created a software in Excel that essentially calculated the optimal food amount for each menu item, based on historical data. For example, if pizza were matched up with chicken nuggets, the results would show that these options are very similar in how much they are liked, about 50/50. However, if pizza were matched up with meatloaf, the results would be closer to 80/20 since meatloaf is less popular. These predictions helped take the guesswork out of choosing how much food to make each day. Students are offered various healthy choices, which is a big part of developing the whole child.

"I loved the software that Luis came up with," said Director of Food Services Juli Varsanyi. "Since these pilot schools went so well, I would like implement the project into all of our elementary schools in the future.”

During the study, cafeteria staff members used the excel software to choose how much of each option to make. Teachers were no longer in charge of finding out what each student wanted to eat for lunch, instead having students making their choices in the lunch line. The new process has saved teachers and cafeteria staff members roughly 200 hours of time per school. Once implemented across all elementary schools, the savings could reach well over 2,000 hours a year for the District.

The new process has also succeeded in reducing the amount of food waste by 5%. A reduction in food waste provides valuable cost savings for the District that can be put back into the classroom. Cafeteria staff members can now more accurately produce the amounts of food needed at lunch. With the success that Thomas and Indian Run Elementary achieved this past school year, this process will be implemented into other elementary schools around the District this coming school year.

“Luis did a terrific job analyzing the data and creating the program to predict the amounts of food needed daily," said Thomas Elementary principal Jenny Davis. “It absolutely worked and added to the success of the cafeteria. Students really appreciated the ability to choose their lunch as they entered the cafeteria and teachers were thrilled to regain five to ten minutes in the morning. Thomas is grateful for the flexible thinking of the District and the willingness to try a different approach to lunch choices and cafeteria efficiency. We are thankful for the ability to pilot this project! It is truly a win-win for everyone!”

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