School Nutrition Programs Provide Stability Amidst Pandemic Uncertainty
No-cost meals and friendly service among the core services that have been provided throughout the pandemic, despite the ever-changing landscape

As schools have adapted to the rapidly-changing dynamics of COVID-19, leaving districts fluctuating between in-person and distanced learning, one aspect of schools’ services has been consistent throughout the pandemic: School Nutrition.

From the initial shutdown in March, school nutrition programs have worked to ensure that children in need of nutritious meals are served. Programs have adapted to ever-changing guidelines from local health officials as well as the USDA, which has changed regulations several times. Many districts are now working to provide healthy and nutritious meals via drive-through and walk-up service, with meals provided for all seven days of the week. 

Through a special emergency waiver from the USDA, all meals are offered at no charge to children ages 2-18 at any of the sites that districts are utilizing. 

As San Diego County enters another restricted phase ahead of Thanksgiving, the need for reliable nutrition continues for children and families across the county. 

“Right now we’re doing 98% distance-learning,” says Eric Span, Director of Child Nutrition for Sweetwater Union High School District. “Everything that we are doing right now is designed so that parents are able to pick up multiple meals in one day.” This model has allowed the district to make meals available in a way that ensures that children’s needs are met.

San Ysidro Middle School School Meal Pick up Site

In the Lakeside Union School District, where a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning has been employed, Director Amanda Thomas’s team has re-worked their central kitchen to produce hot meals for in-person learners while maintaining a grab & go operation daily for students who continue to participate in distance learning. This ensures that 100% of the district’s student's nutritional needs are met during the pandemic.

“Grab & go food service is a whole different method that we were not previously exposed to. This is not our standard operation, but we are continuously learning how to strategically craft and package innovative menu items for our students."

MEETING THE NEEDS OF CHILDREN & FAMILIES

Despite the constantly shifting set of rules and requirements, these nutrition leaders and their teams recognize that the core mission of the service they provide is feeding children and helping families. 

“We know that families have been struggling,” says Span. "We lost a lot of jobs, a lot of businesses closed. To be able to help our community, that’s really what being an American is supposed to be about. I love that we get to be a part of taking care of people, that’s what service is all about.”

San Ysidro Middle School School Meal Pick up Site

Says Thomas, "We have a lot of families that rely on these meals. I am a Registered Dietitian, so to me, nutrition is key. Being proud of the meals that we are providing these students and at no cost to the families has been a great thing. And even with all of the changes, my team continues to work hard to produce high-quality meals for our students, and we continue to create and serve a handful of scratch-made meals that our students love." 

"My staff is awesome,” says Span. "I owe everything to them with everything they have been able to do. We don’t think about the fact that the ladies and gentleman who are out there serving these meals are often leaving their families at home. They’re putting themselves out there in the public during this COVID outbreak. They show up with a smile, and they know what they’re doing is helpful to the community because they live in the community.”

San Ysidro Middle School School Meal Pick up Site

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