Chartwells School Lunch Program

Chartwells is a subsidiary of Compass Group. This is an international company based in England. Compass Group has many subsidiaries, Eurest Dining, Canteen Vending, Morrison Healthcare, Levy Restaurants and many more. Anywhere you can imagine food being served, we are there.  Chartwells is the school dining services division and it over 25 years old. As a provider of the child nutrition program, we are regulated by the USDA Unites States Department if Agriculture), the ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) and Chartwells. Each has its own set of standards and regulations.


The Regulations

  1. We are serving an Enhanced Meal Program. This means that we must offer 5 components every day. The components are: meat/meat alternative, fruit, vegetable, bread, milk. A student must purchase 3 components to equal a reimbursable meal. That is why a trained employee must take lunch tickets. The person responsible for entering the meal counts must know that a complete meal was purchased.
  2. Each has its own requirement. The daily requirements are; meat/meat alternative must be 2 ounces, the fruit /vegetable must be ¼ th  cup each with an extra 1/8 th cup once a week, 8 fluid ounces of milk of a variety of milk fats and 3 servings of bread per day (this is not referring to slices of bread, but a formula for determining the actual number of bread servings based upon a USDA formula)
  3. The meals’ nutritional contents are averaged on a weekly basis.  They may not contain more than 30% fat, 10% or less saturated fat, must meet requirements for Vitamins A&C, protein, fiber, cholesterol, sodium, iron and calories. 
  4. It is suggested that menus be written in a cycle format. This means that the menus will repeat at minimum every 4 weeks.
  5. The governor has also implemented nutritional guidelines and restrictions in the past 3 years for elementary and middle schools students regarding ala carte items, beverage options and sizes.
  6. Offer versus Serve. The program allows that every item of food on a menu must be offered, but doesn’t have to be served. When we serve the students, several trays will have all the items and a few will not. The students will be allowed to choose which tray they wish to purchase. The reasoning behind this a child may consume more of their lunch if the items on their trays please them. We have many students that will eat only

Chartwells has established a program, Balanced Choices. You may notice this indicated on the menus. This program meets the nutritional requirements of the USDA, but is based upon the daily nutritional content of the meal. This is very difficult, but we offer these meals at least twice a week at the elementary level and a daily option is available for the middle school.


The Business of School Lunch

The district has signed a five year contract, renewable each year. The district sends out a RFP (request for proposal) and offered anyone interested in providing meals to submit a proposal. The RFP contained numerous requirements for providing meals. The state approved the menu that was contained in the RFP. The successful bidder had to agree to serve the exact menu contained in the RFP for the first 30 days of the contract. You may remember that we were serving some odd items last year in August and September, such as roast turkey in August!  The bids were then analyzed for content. The successful bidder was Chartwells in 2007.   The contract was approved by the ISBE.

Chartwells does not receive any of the money collected from the students. The money is collected by Chartwells and is deposited into the school lunch account at the bank. At the end of each month, a detailed accounting is submitted for each meal served and then the school pays Chartwells a per meal price. Chartwells is responsible for accounting for each free, reduced and paid meal served on a daily basis at each school. This allows the Director of Finance to submit the reimbursement claim to ISBE and receive the reimbursement for the meals served. The Director of Finance, Ms. Barbara Germany, is in charge of overseeing the lunch program. No small task! She must process every application for the free and reduced lunch program. Then she sends this information to the schools and Chartwells. At the end of each month, she must submit the aforementioned claim. She also deals with many of the issues pertaining to the lunch program.

The fee for using NutriKids on-line is not paid to the school or Chartwells. The fee is charged by PayPal that is the provider for the on-line process.   


Food Production and an Average Day

All food is produced at Old Quarry Middle School. I estimate the number of portions needed based upon historical data. When we begin food production each day, we do not know actually how many servings we will need until the individual schools call.

This is how an average day begins.

The schools submit a needs list at the end of each day. We send any items needed to each school inside a cold box.

6:30- We begin cooking. The cook will look at the estimated number of portions for each school. If it is an item such as meat sauce and pasta, the cook will begin preparing in excess of 40 gallons of meat sauce. This will require the cooking of hundreds of pounds of raw ground beef and then draining the ground beef and adding 30 plus cans of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and tomato paste and spices.

This will cook while we begin proofing hundreds of breadsticks.   They will be baked in batches and sent to each school warm from the oven.

The pasta is cooked in the steamer. We will use at least 80# of pasta. 

9:00- RiverValley calls in their actual numbers.

9:15- The truck driver arrives to deliver mail and pick up meals. The sauce and pasta are sent in bulk. The breadsticks are sent on sheet pans. All are transported in a heated transport box, inside the delivery truck. Many of you may see the truck at the schools. He is a man on a mission! The delivery person must stay on schedule to within minutes or we will not have food to each school in time for serving.

10:00- Oakwood calls in their number. The driver arrives and he loads the food for Oakwood. After delivering the food for Oakwood, he may return to Central to take tickets or wait for the transport boxes to be picked up.

10:15- We begin cooking the items exclusive to Old Quarry, such as pizzas, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches or more adult entrees. During lunch we will prepare several dozen chicken sandwiches cooked in bathes of 18. We will also prepare cheeseburgers in batches of 10. Pizzas are cooked in small batches. We make the pizzas each day. We bake over 30 pizzas per day.

This is in addition to the cold sandwiches, salads and salad bar items that are prepared fresh each morning.

We also heat several 100 soft pretzels and cups of cheddar cheese sauce each morning.

12:30- The driver picks up the hot transport box at River Valley.

12:40- The driver drops off the boxes at Old Quarry.

1:10- The driver picks up the transport boxes at Oakwood.

1:25- The driver makes his final drop off at Old Quarry.

Old Quarry is responsible for washing all the pans used by all the schools...

1:15- Old Quarry is done serving. Clean up begins.

As you can see, every minute counts in our operation. If one person is off schedule that will impact everyone. You may ask why we do not allow more time or labor for completing these tasks. The contract approved by ISBE states exactly how many people, and the number of hours was required to complete the tasks. The district may not increase any costs over 5% each year or they will be required to re-bid the entire contract.    


Menu Planning, Production Sheets, Portion Control

The menus are planned utilizing a menu program, NutriKids. The exact ingredients and the nutritional information regarding each ingredient are entered into the database. As meals are planned, the nutritional content of each item is visible. As menus are planned, the numbers of students eating each item must be entered into the planning template. This is the weighted average. It is used to give a realistic nutritional value to the day’s menu. An example would be a day offering a turkey deli sandwich or mac & cheese. The students would choose the mac & cheese. Suddenly the day’s fat content is in excess of the allowance. I spend several hours tweaking menus to get the exact requirements met.  I must meet the minimum number of calories per week. If I am short even 2 calories, I have to go back and add an item to increase the caloric content by 2 calories.

After the menus are written, I send a copy of the nutritional spreadsheets to each school nurse. She shares the information with parents and students that may need to know certain nutritional information to assist them in managing an illness or disease. 

Production sheets are generated by the menu planning program. (I have included one.) The production sheet must state which school, which grades are being served, the portion size of every item served, the temperatures of each item from the time it is taken from the oven or cooler and through its entire serving cycle, if any items were leftover and what was done with the leftovers. As you can see, we count every carton of milk and juice. We also count every package of ketchup, mustard and salad dressing served. Every item must be accounted for. You will note that the number of servings sent minus the number of servings served must equal the number of servings sold.

The portion control is very strict. We cannot give any extra or any less to any student. Servers are instructed in how to properly portion. We are visited every 3-5 years by a representative from the ISBE. The representative watches to see that proper portions are served, that the menu is followed and the production records are accurate and complete. We had a visit in April and were found to have 1 issue. We needed to have the grades of the schools listed individually on each school’s production sheet.

If any person in the process makes a mathematical error, it will impact everyone down to the student buying a lunch. This is why it is very important that a student actually purchases the lunch that they “reserved”.  That is why you will sometimes see me or a cook bringing food into a school


Food Safety and Sanitation   

We operate using the HACCP process. This process was developed by Pillsbury in the 1960s to provide meals for the astronauts. You can imagine how horrific it would be for an astronaut to become ill with food poisoning!

HACCP stands for Hazards Analysis Critical Control Points. It is a process where food is tracked from receiving, storing, preparation, and disposal. We inspect each delivery of food and complete a form verifying that all foods were acceptable and if not what was done with the food.

All schools have received 100% compliance this year.

The food has stickers that indicate the date the food was received. We use FIFO (first in first out).

We complete a production sheet indicating the temperature of the food and the time it was sent to the school for service.

At the end of the day, the production sheet indicates if something was saved, such as ketchup packets or was it thrown out.

The process allows us to analyze how things are done, if it worked or do we need to change the process.

We continually do this. We check to see if we are doing what is expected and how it is working. An example is that we wash our fresh fruits & vegetables twice. We found that the grapes we have been receiving have more soil residue than our previous grapes. We are now either washing them 3 times or removing them from the stems.

We do not knowingly serve any items that contain nuts.

We must follow standardized recipes. This allows us to assist parents who have students with allergies to know what is in prepared items.

We keep records of the temperatures of each piece of cold holding equipment twice a day.

We keep logs of the concentration of the sanitizing solution.

The dish machine has the temperature recorded twice each day.

We even have a thermometer in the store room to verify that food is kept at the correct temperature while being stored. Only approved cleaning products are allowed in the kitchens. We must have accessible MSDS (Material Data Safety Sheets) for every item.

I could go on and on, but I think you are getting the idea. Food safety and sanitation are an essential part of the process.


USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) & Commodities

You may have heard the term “commodities”, but are not sure what that means. Commodities are food items that the USDA will purchase in bulk. Usually they are items that are having a low market price and USDA will purchase them to help the market. You may remember when people used to receive blocks of cheese. This was a commodity item. The dairy industry was not receiving good prices for their products, so the government purchased the products and distributed them to the community.     Each school district receives a financial allotment each January for the next school year. The allotment is based upon how many meals were served.  Obviously the more meals, the more the allotment. The USDA has a website that has items that are supposed to be available in the next school year listed. These are common items such as hamburgers and canned peaches to the odd frozen cups of strawberries.

As a contract food company, Chartwells is required to utilize the commodities.

Using a cycle menu the order is created and then the annual order is placed on the website.  Although the government the use of cycle menus, they do not deliver items in a process that allows for the use of cycle menus.

Several issues arise from using the commodities. The government will purchase items when the price for the item is very low. They recently purchased the years allotment of rotini. They were going to send 65 cases of rotini in November. You can imagine how difficult it would be to store 65, 20# cases of rotini!

Each month’s delivery must be viewed and approved by the 17th of the month for the next month.  This is the only time changes can be made to what is delivered and how much. So, I cannot write the next month’s menu until I know what is being delivered. Also, storage is a huge issue. That is why we had French fries and tater tots frequently in October. The government chose to deliver 1/3 of my years potato products. I can refuse an item or quantity, but only for 1 month. After that, there is a storage fee assessed.

The district does not pay for the commodities nor would they if they were self-op. They would pay the shipping costs if they were self-op. Chartwells pays the shipping costs. Chartwells also “purchases” the commodities from the school district on a month by month basis. The government has a website that states the market value of the products and detailed inventory of every can, box, hamburger patty used must be kept.  At the end of the month, Chartwells deducts the value of the commodities used against the bill for meals. Sometimes commodities are a good buy and sometimes they are more expensive than market items.


Products and Quality

Quality is a term I hear often. Parents will say that they do not like the quality of the meals. When I ask for clarification of this statement, it seems no one can define quality.

Chartwells serves only branded items, such as Heinz, Angela Mia, Kraft, Keebler etc…

Produce is purchased from a produce provider twice a week. Bread products are delivered by a local Chicago bakery on a daily basis. The milk is delivered by a local milk company 3 times a week. As you can see, we purchase the best products we can.

Our goal is to serve restaurant quality food! BUT there is a large issue that impacts our ability. The fact that all food is transported. It is very difficult to cook food, hold food, transport food and have a good product.

If you or your child has an issue with the quality of an item, please call me. My goal and my job are to provide the best meal possible. I am in the kitchen cooking. I am at the schools serving. I have driven the delivery truck. I cashier. I visit the schools constantly. I want to be proud of the meals we serve your children. When a new employee is hired, the first phrase they hear is “If you would not serve it to guest in your house, please do not serve it to mine.” I do mean this. Ask any Chartwells employee. Ask an Old Quarry custodian!



Chartwells is the employer of the school lunch program employees. Each associate is given a handbook when they apply for the positions. They are asked to read the handbook before agreeing to the job. I do not want anyone to not understand our requirements. We are very strict! We have to be. We have the lives of your children in our hands every day! We cannot deviate from the safety standards set by the company. The standards are there for a reason, to keep the food and the environment safe for your children’s food. We have high expectations. Chartwells does not want to terminate employees. The goal is to identify areas that may need more improvement or training. Chartwells invests in their associates.  Three employees earned their food handlers licenses this year. Chartwells paid all the expenses. Another associate is studying to become a chef. Chartwells works with the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) to develop classes and courses. Every Chartwells associate will have a PDP (Personal Development Plan). The goal is grow the associate!   In the event an associate violates a rule, we have a 3 step process to correct the situation. The goal is to correct, not terminate. If someone is terminated, it was done with corporate approval.  All documentation is submitted to the Human Resource department at corporate The HR representative will help decide the course of action. If an employee is terminated immediately, it is because a major violation occurred such as a food or environmental safety issue, dishonesty, theft, violation of the Zero Tolerance Policy or an act of violence against an employee or student.