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Not Your Mother's School Lunch: How 'Fresh Eyes' Transformed Rapid City Area Schools

Not Your Mother's School Lunch: How 'Fresh Eyes' Transformed Rapid City Area Schools

“When you think about school lunch, oftentimes a woman with a hairnet and scooper is what people imagine,” says Janelle Peterson, Manager of Student Nutrition for Rapid City Area Schools (RCAS). “That’s just the connotation---but we’re not your mother’s school lunch.”

Peterson developed and abides by the RCAS tagline, which promotes “ensuring a successful tomorrow through extraordinary moments today.” She and her team feel a responsibility to not only monitor food safety, but to deliver a complete dining experience.

“We see the kids every day,” says Peterson. “If they choose to dine with us, we can give them a friendly smile or listen when they’re having a bad day. It’s just so awesome to get that opportunity.”


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In 2017, RCAS sought to blast through school lunch stereotypes by redefining its brand.

They had several ideas for improvement but weren’t sure where to begin. Which ideas were viable, which were impractical, and how should they prioritize? Most importantly, what was missing?

RCAS knew they needed a fresh pair of eyes.

With the expert guidance of Pro•Team Foodservice Advisors, RCAS evaluated its staffing, menus, delivery systems, and marketing.  Here’s what they discovered through Pro•Team’s “Fresh Eyes” review.


1. BRANDING. “We have 23 schools and I did not want 23 separate silos,” explains Peterson. “I wanted a global service.” That meant creating a cohesive dining experience for students, from kindergarten all the way up to the 12th grade.

2. CHANGE AVERSION. Some staff were concerned about the loss of school identity. If dining services didn’t feature their mascot and colors, for example, wouldn’t this undermine the school’s unique attributes?

3. SATELLITE SCHOOLS.  Because RCAS has 15 sites without kitchens, two high schools shared the responsibility of food preparation. While this worked well for food distribution, there were concerns about the consistency of the food product going out. 

4. SUMMERTIME. Students benefited from the RCAS feeding program if they lived close to the sites. For those who lived faraway, however, food access remained an issue. RCAS considered food trucks as a possible solution.


1. ENDORSEMENT. Peterson needed data to substantiate change. Because she had the backing of Pro•Team (and a comprehensive report, to boot), she was able to write a five-year strategic plan. Her plan subsequently convinced stakeholders to reform the RCAS student nutrition program.

2. MARKETING NUDGE. With the expert advice of Pro•Team, RCAS branded its “Fresh Choice Café,” which carries its own logo, signage, and signature offerings. Now students can recognize the brand and associate it with consistency.

3. CONSOLIDATE AND AUTOMATE. Pro•Team advised consolidating meal preparation to one school and purchasing a machine to overwrap meals (which had previously been done by hand). As a result, one school was freed up to focus on signature line items, and greater efficiency and food consistency were achieved.

4. LEVERAGING GOOD IDEAS. Summer food trucks were an innovative solution, and Pro•Team encouraged taking it a step further. They advised RCAS to capture the open campus students, which RCAS did by adding a six-week program in the fall. “Students are just blown away,” shares Peterson. “It makes them feel really special.”

5. SUCCESSION. Pro•Team envisioned five years---and beyond. They suggested a succession plan, which would leave the program in good hands after Peterson’s departure. Peterson has since hired an assistant manager.


Contact an advisor to discuss how “Fresh Eyes” will give your program a whole new look.

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