The Current State of K-12 School Foodservice

Most school districts across the country are now in their second full year of resuming standard operations in a post-pandemic world. While “getting back to normal” varies from school to school, the role of foodservice is still a critical component of the overall impact of a student’s daily experience.

As we consider the current state of K-12 school foodservice, it’s still relevant to review some of the details put forth by the School Nutrition Association in their detailed report on COVID-19, Thought Starters for Reopening Schools for SY2020-21. Though we’re several years past the report’s release, directors and school nutrition staff can still learn from its findings, and the reason is simple. Foodservice is still viewed as one of the most important factors in education, and as the SNA report says, claiming a proverbial seat at the table is critical for making the concerns of foodservice part of the equation. Districts still need to balance the importance of school foodservice for many financially-challenged families. Safety is still the top goal.

Here are some of the top points to consider according to the SNA.

Understand your supply chain

Depending on the changes to your menu and how those menu items will be delivered, it’s important for school nutrition directors and staff to make priorities in procurement. Check in with all suppliers to see where things stand, and ask probing questions as to what changes might be expected. If there are changes, consider how they may impact menu development. The bottom line is to rekindle any and all relationships with suppliers to make sure the flow of communication is open and available.

Be prepared for different types of service

No matter what anybody says, we’re all still dealing with more questions than answers. The only certainty at this point is uncertainty. Uncertainty is something you can prepare for, though. Be ready for all types of foodservice ranging from traditional, cafeteria dining to classroom-only meal service to models that focus on grab-n-go and individually wrapped foods designed for taking home. Even if you’re in a district that has already committed to a particular model resulting in a certain type of service, those criteria could quickly change. Be prepared.

Support your staff

You’re likely to have foodservice staff with health concerns. Some may be scared of the financial fallout from not coming to work. Others might be unsure of what safety procedures they need to follow. This means it’s really important to be mindful of staff concerns and to train them properly on what they need to do. There will likely be many new processes put into place, so take the time to support your staff as they look to implement those changes. The other side to supporting your staff is to make sure everyone is healthy. Provide standards of practice and protocols to ensure everyone is healthy and symptom-free.

Follow cleaning and sanitizing procedures

While this point is certainly included as a subset to the others above, it’s important enough to be mentioned on its own. As the SNA states in their report, going back to the basics of safety and sanitation has never been more important. Research and follow best practices from the FDA and the CDC to help decrease the potential spread of the coronavirus. Wear gloves. Provide sanitizer. Consider outdoor eating areas. Allow for social distancing.

Don’t forget why you’re there

We know how passionate school foodservice staff can be when it comes to delivering excellence to our nation’s children. Don’t forget that spirit of service, especially in times like this when we need it the most. Be creative. Consider ways to keep staff visible, use social media, and instead of canceling some of the traditional services you’ve developed, try to transform those services in new ways. Our students will appreciate it.

Here at Middleby, we’re so grateful for all our amazing school nutrition partners. Let us help you sharpen your K-12 foodservice by subscribing to the LEARN blog.

Subscribe Now

Topics: K-12 Schools