The Current State of K-12 School Foodservice

Earlier in the summer, the School Nutrition Association released a detailed report on COVID-19, Thought Starters for Reopening Schools for SY2020-21. As we’re now in various phases of implementation or final planning across the country, we thought it would be a good exercise to review some of these discussion points made by the SNA.

First, it’s important to consider how reopening decisions are being made. In some cases, foodservice is a major part of the process as districts balance the importance of school foodservice in many financially-challenged families. In some cases, foodservice is having to simply adjust to those decisions being made. And in other cases, it’s a combination of both.

Even though some of our schools are already back in some capacity, it’s still relevant for K-12 foodservice leadership to contribute to the overall conversation. As the SNA report says, claiming a proverbial seat at the table is critical for making the concerns of foodservice part of the equation. This means contributors need to be up-to-speed on all federal, state, and local guidelines that exist. Be the expert.

Once decisions are made, executing on what those choices mean becomes the next step. We’d like to walk you through some of those points now, as made by 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 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 are likely going to 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 cancelling some of the traditional service 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.

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Topics: K-12