This is National School Lunch week, and Oelwein Schools Director of Food Service Hallie Roth, who sits on the management team for the district’s Return to Learn, says her department has adapted to the COVID-19 reality.
The School Nutrition Association set Oct. 12-16 as National School Lunch Week.
On top of high food service standards and rules for cleanliness and food safety, the department added a COVID-19-killing yet food-surface safe disinfectant for lunch tables and kitchen areas, as well as mandatory masks for all employees, Roth said. Strict hand-washing and glove use were already standard.
“As far as changes when serving students, there have been a few,” Roth said. “We no longer have our full fruit and vegetable bars at the high school and middle school, but we have been pre-packaging extra fruits and veggies for them to grab. The students can no longer grab their own trays or silverware, so we are wrapping the silverware in a napkin and placing it on the trays before we hand them to the students.
“The tables are all set up 6 feet apart, and each pod has their own two tables that they spread out on,” Roth said. “When students come through the line, they remain masked up and socially distanced by X’s on the floor.”
Checkout has changed, too.
“Students no longer enter their own lunch pin into the computer,” she said. “Now our point-of-sales employee enters all the students numbers for them.
“Students are taken to wash hands before coming to the cafeteria and then when done eating before going to classrooms,” she said.
The grab-and-go meal program serving breakfast and lunch was highlighted when the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Aug. 31 it was extending the federal waivers that allow schools to offer free grab-and-go meals to any student, regardless of eligibility.
“Yes, serving both meals is what we would be doing anyway,” Roth said.
Precautions have led to changes in form as grab-and-go breakfast can now be eaten in the classroom instead of the cafeteria.
A grab-and-go meal site is available for anyone age 1 to 18 that needs a meal and breakfast for the following day. There is a form on the Oelwein Schools website for anyone wanting to take advantage of the free meals. Participants need to sign up a day in advance.
The change in lunch schedules has led to adjusting some staff’s start and end times but contracted hours remain intact.
“We are working our regular contracted hours, just may have adjusted some staff’s start and end times to fit new lunch schedules,” Roth said.
“The Food Service Staff has been going above and beyond to make things work in this uncertain time,” she said. “They are amazing!”
Shortages have also posed a challenge during the pandemic.
“I would say my only challenge is with product availability,” Roth said. “Some products manufacturers are not currently making due to COVID and staffing issues or they just can’t make enough product fast enough for demands.
“As for any other challenges this school district along with myself are very lucky to have the food service staff that we do,” Roth said. “They care about each and every student so they have just adapted to whatever changes we needed to make without complaint and that has solved pretty much any challenge we have encountered. I can’t say enough good things about my staff.”