Reimbursable Meal requirements
Reimbursable meals for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs have specific requirements based on the type of menu planning used. The three main menu planning approaches are: 1) traditional food-based, 2) enhanced food-based, and 3) nutrient standard menu planning.
The traditional food-based and the enhanced food-based menu planning approaches are made up of meal patterns. These are based on the type of meal being served (breakfast, lunch, or after school snack).
A school meal must contain a specified quantity based on the student's age and grade for each of the food components: a) meat or meat alternate; b) vegetable or fruit; c) grains/breads; and d) milk.
The nutrient standard menu planning approach involves schools conducting nutrient analyses on planned school meals. Instead of working with meal components like the food-based approaches, the menu planner averages all nutritional requirements across one week's meal plan. This analysis must meet the nutrition requirement for the market (age/grade level) being served. Information for meal planning approaches is available at: teamnutrition.usda.gov/Resources/menuplanner.html.
In order for vending machine delivered meals to comply with USDA requirements, schools can opt to dispense prepackaged meals (items bundled and bagged) or provide software enabling the student to elect a build-to-order (BTO) option.
Built to order option
In a BTO scheme, the machine's software is designed to direct forced choice construction of a reimbursable meal, given selections within each required component part.
In other words, the machine will not allow the student to continue creating a reimbursable meal until an item in each component segment is selected (for example, a meat item or approved alternate item must be part of the meal).
This type of lead-through programming provides operational controls that ensure no meal can be dispensed unless it is a complete meal that meets USDA standards. Once the meal is complete, all components are dispensed simultaneously to avoid the student only collecting portions of the final meal.
Machine-based nutrition Campaigns
The Healthy Child Campaign was launched in Fall 2006 as an initiative to help schools better educate children about the importance of healthy eating choices, portion control, and exercise.
The uniqueness of this program is that it is somewhat dependent on vending technology to monitor, control, and guide healthy choices while enabling parents to oversee their child's meal patterns and eating habits. Since the program integrates educational components, product choices, and parental involvement, it has been received as comprehensive and effective.
Horizon Software manages reimbursable meals
While Horizon Software has a large installed POS base, to date it has implemented approximately 30 vending machines across seven school districts. The company's two main competitive advantages appear to be its specialty software (component based BTO meals) that directs a student to make choices among required components for the reimbursable meals program and online accessibility of tracked transactions and account balances.
Vending technology suppliers step forward
eSecure Peripherals is a long-established cashless vending technology supplier that brings tightly controlled delivery methodology to the marketplace through its SnapPay product offering. The company uses its cashless vending technology to improve school foodservice operational efficiency through its role in managing the proper delivery of nutritional meals.
The company's strength lies in its ability to integrate a well-tested vending machine mounted payment platform with food service meal plan software to enhance student dining experiences.
VE Global Solutions LLC offers an effective vending program called StarFood that is intended to increase student participation in subsidized and reimbursable meal programs. One of the company's strength is its use of temperature-controlled food vending machines, as opposed to modified snack food machines, and emphasizes a first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory basis.
Prepackaged meals ensure compliance
StarFood uses prepackaged meals to ensure compliance with government programs. The company uses non-proprietary POS software and employs a LAN or wireless system to connect its machines to the school's foodservice POS system.