Like every other aspect of school this year, eating lunch is being made a pandemic-friendly process.
On August 24, co-director of HUUSD Food and Nutrition, Erika Dolan, spoke with The Valley Reporter about the district’s plans for school lunch as students start hybrid learning.
People may remember that last spring, the district made a fast and effective transition into a pick-up breakfast and lunch program. Starting in March 2019, any child age 18 and under could go to any one of six different schools in the district to pick up two breakfasts and two lunches three days a week.
This year the district will maintain this pick-up breakfast and lunch program for students learning remotely. Dolan said the district will even consider a home delivery option. For students eating lunch in school, however, the process will look different.
For starters, all kitchens at all schools will be open. During the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic, this was not the case. HUUSD Food and Nutrition operated using only the Harwood Union High School (HUHS) cafeteria. “Now we are opening all the kitchens,” said Dolan. “We will start the school year like normal with a few adjustments. Meals will be prepared at normal schools.”
Each school will have a different lunch pick-up/delivery system for in-person students. “We met with every principal to design a different model for each school,” said Dolan, who explained that some schools will have students pick up their own lunches from the cafeteria, while others will have staff deliver lunches directly to the classroom.
Regardless of the school they go to, students cannot eat in the cafeteria. “They have to eat in classrooms,” said Dolan.
Schools that plan to have staff deliver lunches to the classroom will rely on a combination of kitchen staff, teachers and support staff to deliver meals, especially at the larger schools. “Thatcher Brook Primary School is a very large school. You cannot have just the food service staff delivering food to the classroom. So, every principal is designating a mix of people to help,” said Dolan.
Lunch packaging will vary from school to school as well. “In some schools, we’re already opening on day one using trays and normal silverware,” said Dolan. “In those schools, we will only use to-go containers for the remote days.”
When asked if she was concerned about the environmental impacts of disposable packaging, Dolan was adamant that the district would try its best to minimize the hazardous environmental impacts of increased lunch-related waste. “Our first choice is always recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, green labeled containers. There is no doubt that that is our first choice, always,” said Dolan.
However, she also pointed out that being fully green would be nearly impossible. “There is always some time that those containers are not available,” said Dolan about biodegradable containers.
In the spring, the district had a hard time finding biodegradable containers because of high prices and low distribution. Additionally, the district used many nonrecyclable containers because they were microwave friendly. “We were serving cold meals with the expectation that kids could put it in the microwave, and those containers were microwavable. The other containers that we had that were recyclable were not.”
While the HUUSD food and nutrition program will do its best to provide environmentally-friendly packaging this year, Dolan said teachers will be responsible for promoting environmental protection as well. “When students eat in the classroom, it’s going to be up to each teacher to educate them about sustainability. Some teachers are going to spend more time teaching their students to compost and recycle. Others might not spend as much time.”
In general, Dolan is thrilled at the prospect of having students back in school, eating HUUSD meals. “We are focusing a lot of our energy on cooking fresh, from-scratch meals. Our chefs are really gearing up for a great menu that’s going to feature many local products,” said Dolan. ‘We really want to make sure that we are serving our population well.”