Requesting suggestions for build season and competition food planning

I am a mentor for team 957 SWARM. We have been working to build the team the last few years. During build season we meet 3 week nights and for 8 hours on Saturdays. For the last few seasons we have asked parents to volunteer, ideally in pairs, to provide lunch for the team during our Saturday meetings. For the most part this has worked pretty well with a few exceptions.

In the past we did not provide food for the team at regional events as we were unable to get someone to step into a coordinating role to make this happen. We did have a formal plan when we traveled out of state. In the 2022 season we did have a parent volunteer to coordinate food for our meetings and events and it was great having food provided.

Skip to this season, our team has grown from around 20 students to around 40 students and we are struggling to get the parents to step up this year. I know there must be teams out there who have an organized plan for feeding the team. Would you be willing to post here with a breakdown on what your team does both for long build season meetings and for event food planning?

Any feed back would be greatly appreciated.

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I don’t have all the details but I can share what I Know. So we’ve followed a similar schedule food wise, one meeting a week with the food provided. typically we have done this by getting one of the local grocery stores to sponsor the team in the form of catering. from there we would just have 2-3 parents prep and serve the meals. we run a parent booster organization and part of that and membership on the team has to do with service hours for parents (there is also a buy-out option). this has always made it fairly easy to coordinate (parent boosters handle much of the planning now). as per events. when we get the comp info and ordering we send out a form to the team so they can sign up for pre-order and send our order as a team. usually 1-2 of the parents will pick-up and stay with the food and check off that the kids get what they order. last year with the covid restrictions this was an extra incentive for the parents to see the comps in person. otherwise it works towards the required hours. hope that helps!

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Thank you for being willing to take on food planning for your team! It can be a cumbersome and thankless task, but it really is one of the most important things we can do as mentors for our students.

For competition food planning, this is typically my process:

1. Set a Target Budget:

I start with setting a target budget based on what may be “reasonable” for my team and students. Some teams favor convenience (usually more expensive) over less convenient (usually less expensive) options. For example:

Convenient: Panera Box Lunch (~$15 per person per meal)
Convenient: Qdoba Burrito Box Lunches (~$12 per person per meal)
Less Expensive & Less Convenient: Build Your Own Sandwiches (~$4 per person per meal)
Less Expensive & Less Nutritious: Pizza (~$4 per person per meal)

After understanding what is “reasonable,” you can set a target budget. I’d say $15-$30 per day is a reasonable low-high range. Make sure you plan for tipping the restaurant and any delivery fees when setting your target budget and calculating expenses.

2. Pick Restaurants:

I try to order from local places instead of chain restaurants when I can, but sometimes it is just easier to order from somewhere familiar. I also emphasize ensuring that each meal has a nutritious balance of vegetables, carbs, and protein for each of the variety of dietary needs that team members have. I use these requirements along with the target budget and event schedule to select which restaurants we will be getting meals from.

Once I’ve selected restaurants I prepare a Google Form to collect orders and dietary restrictions. I typically like to provide 3-4 choices for each meal, and make sure there is at least one option for each dietary need I am aware of.

Here’s an example form from the 2022 Season: 2022 Ventura Regional Food Order Form

The team I am currently on generally favors less convenience in exchange for lower costs. The team recently competed in the offseason, and this is what I ended up selecting for our meals:

Friday Dinner: Burritos from Burrito King ($10/person)
Saturday Breakfast: Provided by Hotel
Saturday Lunch: Build Your Own Sandwiches ($3.75/person)
Saturday Dinner: Indian Food from Brahma Bull (Buffet Style) ($14.75/person)
Sunday Breakfast: Provided by Hotel
Sunday Lunch: Build Your Own Sandwiches ($3.75/person)
Sunday Dinner: Pizza from Domino’s ($4/person)

Total Cost Per Person: $36.25

If you charge students for travel expenses, this charge can be added to the travel fee that team members pay to attend the competition.

Remember to consider the event schedule and where the team will be when you select restaurants. You may want to order delivery to the venue for lunches, but may prefer to pick up dinners to take to the hotel.

3. Place Your Order:

I make a Google Sheet to compile team orders based on what team members selected in the Google Form, and to calculate the final cost before I place my order in the days before the competition. I don’t want to have anything extra to deal with during events on top of my other responsibilities, so I always try to place the orders before the event.

In the Google Sheet I use, each meal gets their own little breakdown so I know what to order, when to pickup/expect delivery, etc. Something like this:

Order Google Sheet

I try to include as much info as possible, so someone else can take over for me if I for some reason become unavailable.

4 At Competitions
Ensure that anyone picking up, setting up, or assisting with meals at competitions is well aware of their responsibilities prior to the competition. People often forget what they ordered, so it can be handy to have an order list printed or easily accessible when distributing food.


Our team is similar to what you describe. During weeknight meetings, we have a stash of snacks, no meal planned. For our Saturday meetings, we do a SignUp Genius. We have a parent volunteer that sets the meal plan and others just sign up. Several mentions are made throughout the week. So far, that has worked out well for us. YMMV. It is not fair to the coaches/mentors that volunteer their time to then have to worry about one more thing. If parents can’t be bothered to help feed their kids, that shouldn’t be your problem. We are firm on this from the very beginning.
Competitions on the other hand are different in some ways. We have tried both potluck-style and pre-ordering food. For us, pre-ordering seems to work better. Potluck has too many difficulties. If we have a good fundraising year, the team either pays for the meals or at least subsidizes the meals. If not, then families have to pay for them. I think you will find that when push comes to shove, families will step up.
Hopefully this rambling helps a little! :slight_smile:

  1. sign up genius
  2. Cherish, recognize and honor thy logistics officer/mentor/parent. We totally give full mentor status (shirt, recognition) for the person that takes on care and feeding of our organization. This is WORK and often goes unappreciated and unremarked. This is an important position and even if it isn’t glamorous, needs to be recognized.
  3. For our Saturdays, we have a community potluck. Our Logistics mentor picks the the “theme” and puts out a signup genius so everyone contributes what they can. “Taco/Nacho Bar” - crockpots of beans, beef, chicken, Sour cream, hot sauce, tortilla chips, tortillas. “BBQ sliders” - crockpots of various proteins, BBQ and dinner rolls. Fruit, salads etc… you get the idea.
  4. We budget a non-trivial amount for the Friday lunch - the club buys pizza, or chicken or subs and parents contribute snacks and beverages. A meal on Saturday is usually on your own or potlucked.

We are totally lucky that our parents are extremely generous and supportive. But there needs to be someone to remember napkins, and allergy safe foods and coordinate team members for clean up. Parents may help, but we are also trying to build a strong team ethos of honoring those that do “invisible” work and cleaning up ourselves. I haven’t put a “No Mom’s allowed” label on our vacuum…yet… but you get the point.


We also do a signup genius for Saturday lunch. The days’ themes have been the same for as long as I can remember (Pizza, Soups, Tacos, Sandwiches, Spaghetti)

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This topic is a hot one. We do it differently almost every year, so I will put down what we are doing this year and hopefully it will help.

We had a “Parent Open House” the beginning of December and during that meeting we went over the expectations of the team members and their families and what our general plan was for the year. We spoke about food for Saturday meetings and what arrangements could be expected for competitions. We also started a “Mentor Parent” group that helps with food (that’s me), hotels, and general odds and ends that mentors don’t have time to do.

Our plan goes like this… You get an email with a google spreadsheet, that sheet has dates we will be meeting on Saturdays (we only feed on Sat. other days kids should eat before arriving). Your family chooses a date and a theme they want to bring. They can enlist the help of other families or they can provide the whole meal. It is completely up to them. I provided a list of meal ideas, snack ideas, dietary restrictions and approximate headcount. We have about 12 Saturdays that will require a meal and so far most of those have been taken. I send out a friendly reminder on Monday or Tuesday of the week to the family/ families that signed up and leave it at that. As far as setup & clean up, we have found most families will set up their meal wait for everyone to eat and then clean it up before they leave. Our team members and mentors are also required to clean up after themselves and as a former teacher, I have no problem reminding them of that (they do pretty good). Most Saturdays one of the Mentor Parents also swings by to assist if needed. Our organization provides that paper goods and cutlery.

For our off-season competition I put a spreadsheet together to order from Jason’s Deli. I sent the spreadsheet into Jason’s the day before competition, picked everything up and called it a day. It was pretty easy.

For longer competitions, I will probably borrow ideas from above. I know at World’s last year we did a sandwich bar and that worked well for the team (I wasn’t there). This year we are still putting our plans together and I appreciate all the ideas.

Snack and Meal Ideas

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Hey, first off, you are taking on a huge responsibility that everyone will appreciate, whether they tell you or not. I know all too well how hard this can be and how much the team actually needs it.

I started a booster for my team in 2019 to help with fundraising. Within that, we started an official team fee, which basically just rolled all the hotel costs from previuos years into a nice one time payment due at kickoff. Well, we had issues in 2018 with mentors leaving the venue for meals and not getting back to help, and yada yada. So we added meals at comp into the fee breakdown.

This is how I do food at competition. Similar to somone above, but wanted to post in case there are small differences, or just to see that more than one person does this.

We are a district team, so we usually leave after school to get to the venue for Day 1, which for us is just load in and pit time. We take the pit crew and drive team to the venue to do that, and the rest of the team to the hotel. Once we are in our respective places, I get pizza for each place. Depending on the location of each, it may be from different places. Pizza, even with inflation this year, runs about $4 per person.

Then free breakfast at the hotel Day 2 and Day 3. Lunches during full comp days, we finally settled on a constant and that is make your own sandwiches. We buy the more quality meats since the students are technically paying for it within the fee. We do chips and apples with that.

Then dinner Day 2 is some sort of catered thing. We did falzolis last year and it was a hoot. I only gave them certain choices on the dinners. Sent out a google form to let them choose, and ordered those quantities. Chick fila nugget trays with mac and cheese side. We bought styrofoam containers to individually portion and it worked great. Since we do sandwiches for lunch, I try to stay away from subway, jimmy johns and the like for dinner.

With 2021 and most of 2020 gone, we have just finally settled on how this all works. It has saved so much headache. We have one mentor and any volunteer parents set up and tear down lunch. The same mentor picks up the dinners.

Dinner that last day we just do on the way home, so it is fast food and kids bring their own money. I suggest 10 dollars.

For this year, we set in 10 bucks per lunch into the student fee. This lets mentors eat lunch for free if they want that lunch. Or they can grab concession stand. We set in 15 bucks for each dinner. This gives us the freedon to get most catered meals without too much trouble. In the past it was 10 dollars and that got hard.

This gives us a nice exact budget. This way, it is not coming out of team money, and these were meals they were already paying for anyway.

Comp Summary:
Dinner Night 1: Pizza ($4 per person)
Lunch Day 2: make your own sandwhiches ($6 per person usually)
Dinner Night 2: catered something (fazolies, chick fila, qdoba, cracker barrel) ($10-12 per person)
Luch Day 3: make your own sandwhiches ($6 per person)
Dinner Night 3: Fast food on the way home. (Their own money)

Please feel free to reach out for more comp food info. I have been doing this a while and finally feel comfortable about it and would love to talk more.

For season, we do what you do. Parents sign up. We recently started meeting weeknights only after 530 to avoid dinner those nights, so our only meal is Saturday lunch. That helped alot with parent volunteers. But I do now how a large team makes that hard. The carry in idea would work well for Saturdays too.

That is a big post. I hope its readable. Please reach out if you have any questions.


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