More than just about any other type of foodservice operation, school nutrition directors have had to pivot to a whole new format of foodservice delivery in the age of Covid. From spacing out school cafeterias to outside dining to individually wrapped foods delivered directly to classrooms, we admire the resourcefulness we’ve seen in school cafeterias across the southwestern United States.
As great as the adjustments have been to feed students inside of schools, we cannot bring up this topic without talking about the enormous efforts school districts have made to deliver food to those in need during periods of virtual learning when students did not have access to schools. To see our school lunch staff continue to provide nourishment to students in need under the circumstances of Covid has been inspiring.
While the last year or so have certainly presented a wide range of challenges, things are beginning to return to normal as we near the end of the 2020-21 school year. At the same time, directors are planning what their services will look like for the 2021-22 school year when things begin to look a bit more normal.
Here are a few things to consider as school nutrition directors look toward the future:
RENEW RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS.
Some students who return to school at the end of the upcoming summer will not have been in a classroom in about a year and a half. This is mindblowing when you think about it, and when you put yourself in the shoes of one of these students, it’s hard to imagine how returning to school is going to be anything but difficult.
For school nutrition directors and school lunchroom staff, this presents an opportunity to connect with students through food. Provide high quality options and speedy service with a friendly attitude, and that will go a long way toward increasing much-needed student participation. At the end of the day, the best part of the day is often lunch. Just think back to your school-aged days and how lunch was often the highlight. Now on the service side, that represents an opportunity.
RENEW RELATIONSHIPS WITH SUPPLIERS DURING MENU PLANNING.
One of the challenges we saw, especially in the beginning of the Covid pandemic, was just how vulnerable our food supply chain really is. In some cases, food was wasted because there weren’t foodservice operations open to purchase it. In others, certain foods became scarce. In many cases, the result was a destabilization of the supplier/consumer relationship.
As we plan for the coming school year, it’s important to develop menus that will nourish children, meet standards and regulations, provide diversity, and certainly quality. One of the next steps is to match those menus with the suppliers who will help provide the ingredients, and then rekindle those relationships if they’re not back to pre-Covid standards already. As the new school year approaches, it's worthwhile to review how items are being served to students, whether it's bulk or individually wrapped.
REVIEW YOUR EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES.
In many cases, this is the best time of the year to review your existing foodservice equipment and supplies, analyze its current performance, and plan for the full reopening of schools in 2021-22.
Aging equipment can be one of the biggest challenges in a school cafeteria as it can lead to energy inefficiency, slower speed of service, labor challenges, lower quality, and potentially even safety hazards. While students won’t look behind the serving line to notice the new oven you purchased over break, they will notice subtle differences in quality the right oven can help provide. Conduct a complete, kitchen-wide audit of your foodservice equipment and supplies now to begin the process of upgrading your service in the coming school year.
Get your free school foodservice kitchen assessment from Total Source, and begin upgrading your service today.