COVID-19 Child Nutrition

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Since the outset of the COVID-19 outbreak, USDA has been working tirelessly with states and local authorities to ensure schools and other program operators are empowered to continue feeding children.  School nutrition programming remains a crucial support to students and families by providing meal services in normal and uncertain times. Districts should build on the experiences of the spring school closures in 2020 to form strategies on how to ensure continuity of meal services through new and evolving contexts.

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Resources
North Dakota: COVID-19 Waivers & Flexibilities

USDA intends to use all available program flexibilities and contingencies to serve our program participants across our nutrition programs. We have already begun to issue waivers to ease program operations and protect the health of participants.

Restart Guidance - Child Nutrition

Through school closures, summer breaks, and re-opening, school nutrition programming remains a crucial support to students and families by providing meal services in normal and uncertain times. Districts should build on the experiences of the spring school closures in 2020 to inform strategies on how to ensure continuity of meal services through new and evolving contexts.

As districts map out goals for what school will look like in the upcoming academic year, these guiding questions and resources may be used to inform decisions related to how school nutrition may continue to meet student needs in a variety of settings, especially when students are unable to get to meals.

District-Level Considerations

  1. What training do school foodservice staff need before school starts?  Have staff been trained on proper foodservice sanitation techniques, alternative serving models, food safety requirements, proper use of personal protective equipment, and social distancing?
  2. Has the district communicated with local and state health departments to ensure schools are adhering to the latest food service guidelines? Familiarize with the safety and operation guidelines from the North Dakota Dept of Health Food and Lodging for all statewide food service industries.
  3. What strategies are in place for alternative serving models that promote social distancing and reduce contact?  These may include:
    1. Serving meals in the cafeteria (at reduced occupancy levels, consistent with statewide guidelines) with:
      1. Spaced serving lines (marked on floors);
      2. Spaced seating (use outdoor space as practicable and appropriate); and
      3. Longer meal periods for more staggered meal delivery.
    2. Classroom service/classroom dining
  4. Are necessary supplies available to ensure that schools are prepared to operate alternative serving models (i.e., serving meals in the classroom, disposable food service items)?  Have supply needs been communicated with distributors?
  5. Have food service operations coordinated with teachers and administrators?
  6. Are menus developed that adhere to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal pattern regulations that do not rely on students self-serving (i.e., salad bar) items.
  7. What meal service contingency plans are in place for remote learning scenarios?  Establish procedures and protocols to ensure students have access to school meals during unanticipated school closures. School Districts should include at a minimum the following topics:
      1. Procurement of food
      2. Food distribution options
      3. Staffing and volunteers
      4. Transportation
  8. What guidelines are in place regarding food from home (i.e. classroom celebrations, guardians dropping off food during the school day for individual student consumption)? Note: This is not to suggest regulating food from home in student lunch boxes for individual student consumption. Policies concerning outside food brought into the building and any restrictions on outside persons during the meal service should be communicated with families.
  9. Have you communicated with households regarding program changes between meal service during school closures and the new school year?  Including that some families received meals at no cost that will not be eligible when school starts without applying for free or reduced-price meal benefits. 
  10. What is the district’s plan for disseminating information regarding free or reduced-price meal benefits, including supports available to assist families in completing forms?
  11. How will this information be provided to families with that don’t speak English as a first language and/or with disabilities?

School-Level Considerations

  1. How will potable water be made available with all meals without relying on the water fountain or beverage containers to meet the requirement?  
  2. What point-of-service model is available that that does not rely on students entering their own lunch number?
  3. How will staff and students practice social distancing during food preparation and meal service periods.
  4. Are procedures in place to:
    1. Ensure all high-touch surfaces are cleaned and sanitized throughout the meal service times.
    2. Prevent students from sharing food or eating utensils.
    3. Utilize disposable plates, cups, cutlery, etc. if necessary
    4. Ensure all students to have adequate time to obtain and consume meals.
    5. Limit unnecessary staff and visitors from foodservice areas.
  5. How will the district ensure that that USDA Civil Rights requirements (i.e., special diets, protected classes) are followed?
Planning for Re-entry to North Dakota School Food Service
  • Take measures to ensure personnel safety and training needs are met for effective operations and employee protocols.
  • Familiarize with the safety and operation guidelines from the North Dakota Dept of Health Food and Lodging for all statewide food service industries.
  • Communicate with local and state health departments to ensure schools are adhering to the latest food service guidelines and regular screening of employees for COVID-19.
  • Audit necessary materials and supply chain for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting and preventing spread of disease.
  • Review and edit, as appropriate, existing Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans.
  • Establish procedures to ensure all school staff involved in meal service are aware of basic food safety principles and the differences between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting.
  • Develop menus that adhere to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal pattern regulations that do not rely on students self-serving (i.e., salad bar) items.
  • Share tables are not recommended at this time.
  • Develop strategies for alternative serving models:
    • Serving meals in the cafeteria (at reduced occupancy levels, consistent with statewide guidelines) with:
      • Spaced serving lines (marked on floors);
      • Spaced seating (use outdoor space as practicable and appropriate); and
      • Longer meal periods for more staggered meal delivery.
    • Classroom service/classroom dining
    • Audit necessary supplies to ensure that schools are prepared to operate alternative serving models (i.e., serving meals in the classroom, disposable food service items).
    • Coordinate food service operations with teachers and administrators.
  • Ensure that USDA Civil Rights requirements (i.e., special diets, protected classes) are followed.
  • Have meal service contingency plans in place for remote learning scenarios.
  • Establish procedures and protocols to ensure students have access to school meals during unanticipated school closures. School Districts should include at a minimum the following topics:
    • Procurement of food
    • Food distribution options
    • Staffing and volunteers
    • Transportation

Re-entry in the Fall

  • Work with local leadership to ensure that food service staff have the appropriate and necessary safety equipment to safely perform their tasks.
  • Instruct staff on proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Utilize point-of-service models that do not rely on students entering their own lunch number.
  • Practice social distancing during food preparation and serving.
  • Ensure students are practicing social distancing during meal service periods. Allow student hand washing before and after meal service.
  • Clean cafeterias and high-touch surfaces throughout the meal service times.
  • Follow safe food handling practices.
  • Ensure students have adequate time for breakfast and lunch meal consumption in accordance with state regulation. Schedule flexibilities for all students to have adequate time to obtain and consume meals.
  • Provide students with special dietary needs with reasonable accommodations in accordance with federal regulations.
  • Work with local leadership to establish guidelines regarding food from home (i.e. classroom celebrations, guardians dropping off food during the school day for individual student consumption). Note: This is not to suggest regulating food from home in student lunch boxes for individual student consumption. Policies concerning outside food brought into the building and any restrictions on outside persons during the meal service should be communicated with families.

Recovery 2021 and Beyond

  • Assess opportunities to revise or scale back meal service operations restrictions.
  • Examine menu expansion or new recipe development under USDA guidelines.
  • Monitor monthly participation rates and revenue and expenditures to ensure program integrity/success.
  • Assess staffing needs.
  • Review and modify disaster and contingency plans.
  • Utilize USDA food entitlement dollars (i.e., commodities).
  • Examine feasibility in participating in additional child nutrition feeding programs (e.g., CACFP At-risk).
  • Explore opportunities to support local communities by purchasing local products (i.e., farm-to-school).
  • Keep up to date with Child Nutrition waivers and flexibilities approved by USDA.
  • Review and revisit Local Wellness Policies for opportunities to strengthen efforts or support innovative projects.