COVID-19 School Meal Spotlights
Under challenging circumstances during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, school communities have worked tirelessly to ensure children have access to meals. Below are some of their inspirational stories. Share your school/school district successes with us at @Team Nutrition.
USDA is using all flexibilities to ensure children and those in need receive nutrition assistance during COVID-19. Learn more about COVID-19 child nutrition waivers by state.
- Adams 12 Five Star Schools Uses Creative Meal Service Methods
- Coupeville School District Continues Cooking from Scratch
- Houston County Schools Provides Meals and Smiles
- Marietta City Schools Deliver Meals by Bus
- Randolph County Schools Partners Up
- Union Public Schools Implements Efficiencies in Packaging Meals
Since March 2020, Adams 12 Five Star Schools in Colorado has served more than 2.2 million meals to 4,000 children using creative meal service methods such as mobile meal service, in-person grab n’ go, and walk-up and drive-thru meal service.
Focusing on the Mission
Adams 12 Five Star Schools’ Nutrition Services Department operates following five central values: care, collaboration, empowerment, engagement, and a focus on students. The department has formed partnerships across the district and community to develop and sustain a large and dynamic meal service operation. These partnerships and a community mindset have helped the department develop a standard distribution method to overcome challenges in serving school meals during COVID-19. Molly Brandt, Adams 12 Five Star Schools Director of Nutrition, said, “The school nutrition staff aim to be the bright spot for families - every day, every student, every time.”
Getting Creative with Meal Service
In response to COVID-19, the Adams 12 Five Star Schools implemented creative meal service models to reach students. The district’s Nutrition Services Department reexamines meal service methods every 4 to 5 weeks to improve the process. The district has provided access to meals through:
- Drive-thru/walk-up meal service at four district high schools.
- Mobile meal service, which delivers meals to more than 30 locations across the district.
- Grab-n-go meals for Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade students attending school in person.
- A Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) at-risk supper program implemented across the district.
As of February 2021, Coupeville School District in Washington state includes foods made from scratch in each of the 750 weekly meal boxes they distribute through the Summer Food Service Program. At least 85 percent of meals have something homemade and they use locally procured foods whenever possible.
Streamlining the Process
Coupeville School District provides a 5-day meal box each week that includes breakfasts and lunches for children. Families pre-order meals using an online ordering system and pick up the meals at local distribution sites. During meal pick-up, families can pre-order for the following week as well. For easy distribution, the district provides separate bags for dry, cold, and frozen foods and milk—each box gets one of each!
Sticking with Scratch-Cooking
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Coupeville School District has remained committed to providing meals made from scratch using local foods. School nutrition staff are preparing 2-3 breakfast grains (such as muffins or granola), 3 lunch items (soup, pasta, or rice dishes), and accompaniments such as homemade salad dressing. Twice per week, the school nutrition staff prepares sandwiches using bread from a local bakery. The district prioritizes local foods when they can, and those meals are always the most popular.
Laura Luginbill, Assistant Food Service Director, said:
“The school nutrition staff are proud of the Coupeville Connected Food Program and that their commitment to fresh, local, and homemade reimbursable meals has earned them the trust and respect of their community.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Houston County School Nutrition Program in Georgia has adapted its school meals program to provide meals for virtual and in-person students. In addition to providing nutritious meals, staff and families have demonstrated their support during creative drive-thru events. Meredith Potter, Houston County School Nutrition Director, says that “Making the most of the program flexibilities including area eligibility and non-congregate feeding, has been crucial in moving our program forward as we adjust to best serve our community by feeding the children of Houston County.”
Creative Meal Distribution Lines
In Georgia, the Houston County School Nutrition Program served more than 1 million meals to children between March and June 2020. During the summer, the district distributed more than 75,000 bulk (5-day) meals each week at drive-thru pick-up locations. One school decorated the drive-thru line each week with a different theme and even dressed accordingly. This creative gesture helped create strong bonds between the families picking up meals and the school nutrition staff. Younger children received coloring worksheets, and many children returned their artwork as an expression of gratitude, which the school nutrition staff proudly displayed at the meal distribution site. This school grew to be the district’s largest meal distribution location.
Appreciating School Nutrition Professionals
Houston County celebrated School Nutrition Employee Appreciation Day with mini car parades, where families decorated their vehicles and drove through school meal drive-thru pick-up lines. Homemade signs and decorated cars showed school nutrition staff how much their efforts mean to the community.
Supporting In-Person and Virtual Meal Service
During the 2020-2021 school year, Houston County has implemented strategies to ease production and meal service, while maintaining social distancing and other safety measures. The county reassigned school nutrition staff and streamlined menus to allow for easy portioning and packaging of meals. For in-person meal service, serving lines featured new signage and pre-portioned items instead of self-serve salad bars. School nutrition staff have created additional access points for students to pick up breakfasts. In high schools, the district temporarily moved away from food concept lines (e.g., pizza lines) in the cafeteria to all lines serving the same items. This change helps with traffic flow, speed of service, and social distancing.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Marietta City Schools in Georgia distributes meals each day along 31 bus routes with 81 bus stops. Teachers and district staff have joined in to ride the bus and deliver meals to students -- boosting staff and student morale.
Meeting an Urgent Need
In early March 2020, Marietta City School’s School Nutrition Program (SNP) knew that closing the doors of the district’s kitchens was not an option. School nutrition staff quickly sprang into action to serve meals for the student population, of which nearly 60 percent are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. In a single weekend, SNP staff mobilized food and supplies from all of the district’s schools to Marietta High School and Marietta Sixth Grade Academy, which became district distribution sites.
Leveraging Partnerships to Expand Meal Service
Marietta City School’s SNP collaborated with the district’s transportation department to create 31 bus routes that stopped at 81 locations each day. The district advertised meal distribution locations using their social media channels. Many teachers and district staff rode the buses and distributed meals to students at the stops, and seeing these friendly faces boosted the morale of both SNP staff and students. In addition, the district coordinated with local food banks and organizations and provided additional food items along the bus routes for families.
Randolph County Schools in West Virginia has worked with numerous partners during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure children have access to meals. A partnership with a local college has helped the school district distribute 25,000 meals per week through 3 school sites in the county.
LaDonna Rosencrance, Director of Child Nutrition and Pre-Kindergarten Services, said:
“Randolph County Schools has overcome numerous challenges to create and recreate strategies to make sure all students have access to meals. Randolph County School’s employees and countless community volunteers have continued to be the driving force behind our success. Our success is due, without question, to the dedication and hard work of these employees and volunteers.”
Leveraging Community Partnerships
Randolph County Schools in West Virginia has developed strategies to ensure all students have access to meals. Through an innovative partnership with a local college, Davis & Elkins, the district has distributed approximately 25,000 meals per week to students. The college’s dining services team prepared the meals. Then, they transported the meals to three school sites in the county, where school nutrition staff and community volunteers distributed the meals to children. The district also collaborated with Randolph County Housing Authority to deliver meals to children who missed pick-up earlier in the week.
Union Public Schools in Oklahoma has served more than 2.3 million meals and packaged more than 6.5 million individual food items between March 2020 and January 2021. Approximately 62 child nutrition employees have worked to provide free breakfasts, lunches, and suppers for children, totaling more than 76,000 meals per week.
Switching to Pre-Portioned Packaged Foods
During the 2020-2021 school year, Union Public Schools serve meals in the classroom, in the school cafeteria, via meal delivery using bus routes, curbside for meal pick up, and by sending meals home with students for weekends and holidays. Changes to food production procedures were necessary to support social distancing and the need to pre-portion millions of individual food items. The district has utilized makeshift storage and meal preparation tables in the dining areas of schools. Between March 2020 and January 2021, school nutrition staff packaged more than 6.5 million individual food items in bags or foil. The district’s administrators and other volunteers regularly pitched in to help bag meals, roll carts full of meals to the pick-up location, and assist with meal distribution. Recently, the district purchased new bagging machines to make the packaging of food more efficient.
Focus on Local Foods
Union Public Schools has focused on serving the same foods that appear on the menu during the regular school year to ensure that the school meals are familiar to students. Locally grown tomatoes, squash, onions, potatoes (including a purple variety called Murasaki sweet potatoes), and lettuce are often part of the meals, providing families with fresh produce and supporting local farmers.
Supporting Families through Themed Events
Union Public Schools used themed events to make meal pick-up more fun for children and families. For example, on Book Day, school staff provided free books during meal pick-up. Other themes have included Carnival Day and a Pet Day.