Earlier this fall, Food Management facilitated a K-12 Idea Exchange roundtable discussion among six school nutrition professionals who discussed the issues they faced and the solutions they developed to meet the challenge of feeding kids in the new school year, regardless of whether the students were in school buildings or learning remotely. Sponsored by Bush’s, the panel included nutrition directors from various sized districts from different regions of the country, some of whom were dealing at the time with fully remote learning student bodies while others had a mix of remote and onsite students to feed.
The panel included:
- Chris Burkhardt, executive director of school nutrition at Cleveland Metropolitan School District in Ohio;
- Kathy Craven, foodservice director for Grant County Schools in Kentucky;
- Michelle Drake, director of food & nutrition services for Elk Grove Unified School District in California;
- Michael Rosenberger; executive director of food services at Dallas Independent School District in Texas;
- Amanda Venezia, director of dining services for Londonderry School District in New Hampshire; and
- Donette Worthy, director of child nutrition for Tuscaloosa County School System in Alabama.
The panelists talked about how they were feeding both remote and in-school students, what adjustments they made in operational procedures and menus, how they prepared and trained their staff and what innovations they’d introduced to deal with the effects of the pandemic-related changes their districts implemented for the fall. Here are key takeaways from each of the panelists.
At Cleveland, which was all remote learning at the time of the roundtable, meal distribution was conducted in two models, with daily meals—a lunch plus a breakfast for the following day— offered at K-8 school sites, while high school sites offered weekly meal packs each Tuesday consisting of five breakfasts and five lunches, the rationale being to give parents a choice on which they prefer.
Grant County had just started in-person classes when the panel convened, with about three-fourths of its 3,500 students choosing that option, and it decided to continue its popular Creation Station food bars that offer customization options, except that it is staff-served instead of self-serve, with the number of component options reduced to speed up lines. For instance, the Fiesta Nacho bar offered four topping options instead of the dozen offered before.
Elk Grove USD was also all virtual at the time of the roundtable but had contingency plans for in-person classes that precluded elementary school students eating on campus at any point. To do that while getting all students on campuses, they planned to have students come to school Tuesdays through Fridays for 2.5- to three-hour timeframe either in the morning or afternoon. The morning cohort would get a breakfast for the next day and a lunch to go the end of their day while the afternoon cohort would get a breakfast and a lunch for the next day when they leave. On Fridays, all students would get meals for the following Monday, when everyone was home remote learning. The middle and high schools would have Tuesday/Thursday and Wednesday/Friday cohorts and also get the extra meals for the days they are at home when they leave. The district was also looking at a mobile preorder option it may roll out next spring.
Dallas ISD had just launched a pilot program that delivers preordered meals to district employees with children or grandchildren. It was initiated at one support services site that includes the district warehouse, and plans called for expansion of the program—assuming success at the pilot site—to other administrative and support service sites such as bus barns. The district also operates an online ordering system that lets parents order meals and select the site where they will pick it up.
Londonderry also offered online preordering with two hot lunch options each day prepacked in compostable containers, and customizable salads offering choice of base, two protein options, plus toppings and dressing that can be grabbed and taken to go. Remote-learning students could preorder for curbside pickup daily, with each meal pack consisting of a hot lunch plus breakfast for the following morning.
Tuscaloosa County Schools was operating about half and half remote and onsite learning at the time of the roundtable, with the remote learners getting curbside pickup of five-day meal packs each Monday. Onsite learners were getting meals in the cafeterias with a classroom-based preorder system in the elementary schools that let the kitchen better gauge how many students coming down would want each of the two daily entrée choices, which were all pre-packaged and ready to take. To spread out diners, additional lunch periods were added and principals were given the option of where they would allow students to eat—the cafeteria, the classrooms or other areas such as the outdoor picnic tables some schools added.