Schools around the country are wrapping up their academic years in a way nobody could have expected. Remote learning. Virtual graduation ceremonies. Drive-by diploma pickups. School administrators and staff have gone above and beyond in helping students feel some sort of normalcy in otherwise uncertain times. Additionally, foodservice directors, dietitians and cafeteria staff have also been doing their part, working tirelessly to ensure kids have daily access to healthy, safe and delicious meals. We owe all of these dedicated professionals a round of applause.

But, what now? What is going to happen to lunch programs once schools potentially resume in the fall? Uncertainty looms over all of us in this industry as we start to piece together what a “new normal” might look like for school foodservice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines, but without clear direction from districts and/or local health departments, foodservice directors are being forced to create their own service plans -- from scratch -- for how their entire operation will run once schools reopen.

But, here is some promising (and uplifting) news: Foodservice professionals are coming together like never before, to address this challenge head on. In a recent call spearheaded by a member of the Facebook group, Tips for School Meals That Rock, foodservice professionals from across the nation were strategizing and offering up creative ideas, tips and information, all in the spirit of just wanting to support one another during this time. It was humbling to listen to, and clear to me that this is an incredibly resilient group, committed to not only ensuring that no child goes hungry, but also making foodservice positive, healthy and safe once kids potentially come back in the fall.

In the past several years, we have dedicated our business to helping foodservice directors improve the customer experience in schools. Yet, as we approach whatever the “new normal” may look like (and there will be many variations!), our new Contactless Order Ahead solution can help ensure not only a great experience for students, parents, teachers and foodservice staff, but also their health and safety.

While the future may seem daunting, we have conceived of a few potential service models at all levels that include Contactless Order Ahead. These are just a few ideas, as we know there will be no one-size-fits-all scenario, but hopefully these can help spark inspiration in the planning stages:

  1. Class Orders by Meal Count (Elementary School)
    • At the start of the day, Miss Jean accesses today’s lunch menu on her mobile device and reads the 3 meal options to her class.
    • She counts as students raise their hand for the meal option they would like and submits an order for the item quantities her class will need at lunchtime.
    • Mid-morning, the kitchen batch prints order tickets for all classes. They fulfill Miss Jean’s order along with others and group her class’ meals together for delivery.
    • At 12:00pm, the meals are delivered to the classroom and handed out to students to enjoy at their desks.
  2. Student Pre Ordering for Homeroom Delivery (Middle School)
    • Lindsay arrives at school and after collecting her 1st period history book, she has extra time to think about her order for lunch.
    • She opens today’s lunch menu on her phone, customizes a deli sandwich, and orders an extra side of fruit.
    • Lindsay’s order ticket is printed to the school cafeteria with her name, homeroom, and lunch period A.
    • As lunchtime draws near, the kitchen collects Lunch A tickets, prepares the orders, and groups by homeroom.
    • Lindsay’s order arrives with the other meals from her homeroom for her to enjoy at her desk with her classmates.
  3. Student Order Ahead for Dispersed Dine-in w/ Limited Seating (High School)
    • Jeff has first-period English, where his class is reminded to submit their lunch orders.
    • Jeff opens today’s lunch menu on his phone, chooses a BBQ sandwich and orders an a la carte bag of chips.
    • He knows his last class before lunch is closest to the gym, so he selects the available pick-up location “Gym” and selects his Lunch Period A.
    • Jeff’s order ticket is printed to the school cafeteria with his name, lunch period A, and pick up location.
    • As lunchtime draws near, the kitchen collects Lunch A tickets, prepares the orders, and groups by pickup location.
    • All orders for the Gym pickup location are shuttled to the gym and staged at the entrance.
    • At Jeff’s lunchtime, he walks down to the gym, finds his labeled lunch, and goes into the gym to enjoy with other students at the provided seating areas.

As an industry, we have a huge opportunity to come together to share ideas, lift one another up, innovate and overall, succeed in our collective pursuit in providing the best for our K-12 students. And as always, Nutrislice is here to help along this journey.

What’s one thing you are planning to do differently in the fall? Please share in the comments section of this post.

And head over here to learn more about Contactless Order Ahead.