When school resumes in the fall (or late summer) of 2020, school foodservice will look different. Schools, already challenged by the pandemic, will change operations. Some districts are surveying parents about re-opening schools and some are asking about school lunch. The School Nutrition Association is leading a series of Zoom meetings to help their members gear up for re-opening.
Nutrition educators who teach nutrition and health in classrooms and cafeterias will want to be aware of the challenges and opportunities ahead and consider how to work with school partners.
What will school look like when they re-open? One possible strategy suggested by pediatricians is to keep students to a classroom. And Michigan, like many others, are looking at several options including a combination of in-person and virtual attendance. These and other strategies will impact school foodservice.
Current CDC guidance/suggestions for schools include individually plated meals served in classrooms, disposable utensils.
School nutrition programs have become emergency feeding programs in the wake of the pandemic. And they could be out of money by fall because the money school nutrition usually received from full price school meals wasn’t available with schools closed. And packaging meals to take home, rising food costs and the cost of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep workers safe have added to budgets. In addition, low cost foods prepared from scratch may not be prepared because it’s not certain the multiple meals students pick up will be handled so they are safe to eat. And if prepackaged foods are prepared in-house, then labor costs need to be considered. Rising food costs, even a few cents, has a major impact on the budget when many thousands of meals are served. Pandemic-associated costs such as hazard pay and refrigerated trucks are other items adding to the bottom line. What will the fall look like in school cafeterias? Physical distancing for employees, same for students. It’s likely food won’t be as fresh or made from scratch meaning less healthy options.
What should school foodservice be doing to prepare for the fall? The executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance shares when school challenges when they were closed this spring including the difficulty finding pre-packaged foods when everyone else was looking for these foods and the added challenge of providing students/families info about meals to show what components make up a meal and food handling instructions. What to start thinking about going forward includes developing realistic menus and letting food manufacturers know what school food service needs will be.
K-12 foodservice looks at the ripple effects of the pandemic on school foodservice includes: 1) the trend of food-court or self-service stations will end in light of CDC draft guidance to move lunch into classrooms and more prepackaged meals might be an option; 2) converting salad bars to grab ‘n go stations and 3) using gyms to spread out serving lines.
Unclear back-to-school plans include the need for new waivers to allow school foodservice to be flexible.
And college, university dining will look different too including food delivery and rotating meal times.