Digitising the process of school menu planning

DEPT® partnered with Coylar Technology Services and Gold Star Foods with a shared goal of transforming the menu planning process for American schools.

Serving 30m kids a day

The National School Lunch Program is responsible for serving more than 30 million kids a day – a task that comes with big challenges and a lot of red tape.

Before any food gets on a child’s cafeteria tray, menu planners have to navigate a tangled web of bureaucracies—government regulations, food distributor logistics and pricing, as well as school district procurement procedures. 

Many school food service directors are still using paper-based processes, with any mistake having the potential to create millions of dollars in compliance costs. Creating a digital process became the clear answer to address these ongoing challenges.

We had a pressing issue… to modernise menu planning for the National School Lunch Program. The challenge was twofold – simplify the complex menu planning process while ensuring compliance with nutrition standards. 

Our solution was Cartewheel, an application designed to simplify menu planning. The core concept revolved around creating a user-friendly tool that emphasised delicious, nutritious meals while adhering to nutritional standards.

Built in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture

DEPT® conceived and built Cartewheel, a menu planning app that takes all the complexity of today’s process and simplifies it, allowing  planners to focus on food that kids enjoy, that tastes great, and is sourced from the best suppliers. All while ensuring constant compliance with NSLP nutrition standards.

We partnered closely with the USDA throughout our development cycles. As a result of our collaboration, they removed redundant specifications and added notices regarding modern accessibility standards. 

Our designers conducted in-depth research to identify how technology can best support Meal Planners. We discovered that nutritional calculations were the most onerous and time-consuming task for planners. Ensuring that each meal met nutritional standards required disparate spreadsheets and systems. We focused on automating this process so that planners could focus on what mattered – making healthy and delicious food for kids.

Cartewheel’s most significant technical challenge was encoding 150 pages of legislated standards for ensuring meals are planned correctly. We built a compliance calculator module to simplify this process and ensure accuracy as the top priority. In a big win for the app, we were able to get this auto-suggest calculation feature approved by the USDA—an optimisation that had previously been blocked.

Helping to serve 100,000+ students

In less than 2 years from the start of development, Cartewheel became one of only 12 tools to meet the rigorous standards for USDA-approval for menu planning software. Cartewheel began its initial launch in Summer 2018 and received inquiries from hundreds of school districts within three months.  It resulted in purchases from three state governments for all their school districts, along with more than 25 individual districts in the US. 

Within a year, Cartewheel was helping serve more than 100,000 students across the country. The app has simplified menu planning, significantly reducing compliance costs and administrative burdens. Its success lies in its ability to automate nutritional calculations and provide an efficient platform for meal planners.


SVP of Growth APAC & Head of Australia

Evan Davey

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