From classroom delivery to grab-and-go, Nutrition Services continues to reinvent lunch

Lunchtime for Tracey Crawley’s first-grade class looks a bit different these days.

Instead of eating in a bustling cafeteria, the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center students now have lunch delivered directly to their classroom. Though different, it’s something the students still look forward to — especially on chicken nuggets day.

“It’s like second nature now,” Crawley said about her students’ new lunch model and safety protocols. “The atmosphere is set for them. The food is always on time. Our team has done a great job in making it an easy process.”

For months, Nutrition Services has worked tirelessly to modify and replace conventional lunch service programs with options like classroom delivery, cafeteria grab-and-go lines, and curbside pick-up for virtual learners to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, though models vary from campus to campus.

“We knew very early on that there could not be a cookie cutter approach to this,” said Nutrition Services Area Manager Kory Keimig, who oversees the operations of over 90 kitchens in the district. “Every school is different. And with that, each program is tailored to each school’s logistics and population.”

The new in-classroom lunch program, for example, is a popular choice among elementary and middle schools. It was built upon the district’s breakfast in the classroom model, which calls for students to receive breakfast and eat at their desks during morning announcements.

Even still, creating a lunch variation wasn’t easy.

“Physical distancing impacted our production and how staff worked immensely,” Keimig said. “During normal times there would be two to three people around the same table prepping the same stuff. We had to adjust and accommodate for that.”

Menus were overhauled with meals centered around cold options like sandwiches. That pivot resulted in larger bulk orders of plastic bags and takeout containers — a difficult task with other districts needing the same supplies.

Rolling pushcarts, which help staff transport meals and keep them temperature safe, also became more essential than ever. Staff immediately took inventory to account for all pushcarts in rotation, repaired any broken wheels and latches, then redistributed them to schools across the district.

With the new lunch programs now weeks underway, Nutrition Services is now focused on transitioning schools to more hot entrées. Though it’s a challenge to keep meals at an appropriate 140-degree temperature in a classroom setting, Keimig said he’s confident his team will work through it and any other challenge that may come their way.

“We’re used to constant change,” Keimig said. “We’re trained to roll with the punches and come up with innovative solutions.”