Summer Feeding Has a New Look

Alright, so it’s not just summer…pretty much everything we know has a new look these days. We’ve all seen our 2020 plans thrown out of the window indefinitely. Trips, School Events, Special Occasions. Honestly, does this year even count at all?  Planning has never been harder with so many uncertainties around us. The only thing we know for sure is that our health and the health of families is still our foremost concern, even if we’re just figuring it out as we go. With no sign of the coronavirus going away, many school districts across the nation are preparing to conduct summer feeding just as they have been for the past 3 months. After all, school meals are essential for children in low-income households and children whose parent’s incomes have been affected by COVID-19 closures. In light of this, the USDA has extended all of the FNS Meal Service through most or all of the summer.

If your state has implemented any of these flexibilities, here’s what you can expect for Summer Feeding this year:

Picking Up Meals

When schools first began doing curbside meals at their school sites, it was required for children to be present in order to receive meals, ensuring that meals were provided for whom they were intended for. However, for the health of students and their families, a waiver was offered to allow meals to be picked up without a child present. This will continue to be the case until the end of the summer, giving much more flexibility to meal pick-ups for families and reduce the risk of spread, effective until August 31, 2020.

Meal Patterns

School nutrition programs across the country have been charged with the task of not only feeding students and their families but doing so in a way that meets all mandated guidelines. Not only do foods have to be served in a contactless, social distancing manner, but they still need to meet meal pattern guidelines as a normal menu would. Considering the impact of product availability from vendors, the need for adjusted deliveries, labor, and storage constraints, complying with every meal pattern requirement is certainly a challenge beyond control for many districts. The Meal Pattern Flexibility waiver has also been extended through the first part of the summer, until June 30, 2020.

Meal Times

Another practice for effective social distancing is seen in spreading out meal service times. By having fewer people congested into a particular time period, meal services can run smoother, quicker, and with less risk of exposure to families and workers. For large school districts, this flexibility is the solution they need. While summer feeding sites may see fewer students than the normal school year period, this waiver will be available for use in all states that have elected to use it until August 31, 2020.

Non-Congregate Feeding

We all remember our school lunch periods as a fun break during the day to catch up with our friends and classmates, enjoy our meals, show off our new snacks or weird food mashups. Socialization around meals is a universal part of who we are and what we do. Unfortunately, this too is another area for the coronavirus to spread. Congregate feeding, a standard aspect of the school cafeteria experience, poses too much risk. This nationwide waiver allows school districts to continue feeding students in non-congregate settings,whether it be curbside meal pickup or other alternate settings that enforce safe distancing. This waiver is effective until August 31, 2020.

These waivers allow school districts to continue feeding their students, maintain their nutrition programs, and use their vital presence in their communities to enforce health and safety practices. Summer feeding has a new look, and maybe fall will too, but if we can keep doing our part in reducing the spread, hopefully our children can get back into the cafeteria with their friends in no time.