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Engaging Stakeholders on the Importance of School Meals
COVID meal distribution

Learn about how school meals are essential to student health and academic success, how supporting school meals means supporting the local economy, and how collaboration and creativity can ensure meal service will be effective for everyone.

School administrators and education stakeholders may not fully understand why school meals are so critical for students or even how school meals programs operate. The Importance of School Meals explains the value of including school meals operations as part of back-to-school planning. It also offers ideas on how to engage key staff within the schools, from teachers to custodians, in order to make new meal service models successful.

Resources

Afterschool Meals
School Breakfast
Schools as Nutrition Hubs
Meal pick-up during COVID

The Importance of School Meals

School meals are essential to student health and academic success, they support the local economy, and they are critical in the new school year as families may continue to struggle financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Outreach & Promotion Materials
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Program Options & Nationwide Waivers
Meals outside for COVID

The coming school year won't be business as usual. This section breaks down the possible school schedule models, the meal service models possible for each schedule approach, and the waivers available to make those possible.

Districts and schools across the country are considering a variety of approaches to their schedule in order to teach students while keeping students and staff safe:

  • 100% Distance Learning: All students learn remotely
  • 100% In-Class Learning: All students return to school with enhanced cleaning, distancing, and safety measures
  • Hybrid Learning:
    • Grade-Level Return: Younger students return to in-class learning while older students learn remotely, or vice versa.
    • Targeted Return: Certain groups of students (such as English language learners or students with IEPs) are prioritized to return to in-class learning while others continue to learn remotely.
    • Alternating Schedule: Groups of students alternate between in-class and distance learning every other day, week, etc.

Districts and schools may change between these models throughout the school year. And even within each model, there are many possible variations depending on the school or district's capacity and needs. 

For students learning remotely, schools may continue some of the meal service models that were widely utilized during emergency meal operations in the spring:

  • Direct home delivery
  • Delivery along bus or mobile routes
  • Walk-up distribution
  • Drive thru distribution

Students in a hybrid learning model may receive meals during their distance learning days via one of the models above, or schools may decide to distribute meals for the following day(s) as students leave on their in-class days.

For students in schools, the school nutrition staff is likely considering a variety of options for both service location and eating location. Serving meals out of the cafeteria may be easiest and allow for the most meal options, but some schools may need multiple distribution points to accommodate social distancing while serving meals within a reasonable time frame. These schools may consider grab-n-go meals from kiosks in hallways or other common areas, or direct delivery to classrooms.

Meal Service Options for School Year 2020-2021 provides additional details and helpful graphics to illustrate these possible models. This resource also describes the nationwide waivers currently available to support new meal service models. It also discusses the waivers that have not been extended and the potential challenges and limitations of operating within the current waivers.

As of August 7, 2020, the nationwide waivers currently available to support operations through June 30, 2021 are:

  • Non-Congregate Meal Service Waiver for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), and Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Meal Service Time Waiver for the NSLP, SBP, and CACFP.
  • Parent/Guardian Meal Pick-Up Waiver for the NSLP, SBP, and CACFP
  • Meal Pattern Waiver for the NSLP, SBP, and CACFP
  • Offer Versus Serve Requirement Waiver for High Schools in the NSLP
  • Onsite Monitoring Requirements in the School Meals Programs

Additionally, onsite monitoring requirements have been waived in the CACFP and SFSP through September 30, 2021. The USDA has also begun approving state-requested Provision 2 flexibility waivers.

Resources

Afterschool Meals
Coronavirus
School Lunch
School Breakfast
Meal prep during COVID

Meal Service Options for School Year 2020-2021

Confused about the waivers for SY20-21? Not sure what your options are for meal service during distance learning or four day school weeks? Check out this resource.

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Meal Service Operation Resources
Cafeteria Line in COVID

Meal service during the 2020-2021 school year is expected to look very different than it has in the past. The resources in this section were designed to help school nutrition staff plan for meal service operations under a variety of scenarios.

When the new school year begins, changes are expected that will support social distancing efforts to keep students and staff safe amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Districts are considering a variety of in-person and virtual learning scenarios. With each scenario comes implications for meal service. There are still many questions about what the “new normal” will look like, but we know that school meals must remain a service kids and families can count on.

We anticipate that school nutrition departments may end up implementing multiple models of meal service to ensure that students have access to meals, regardless of whether they are learning at school in-person or virtually at home. We’ve created a number of resources to help school nutrition staff plan for meal service operations under a variety of scenarios.

Our Back-to-School Meal Service Toolkit has been designed to help you plan for meal service during the 2020-2021 school year, as we continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic. This comprehensive toolkit sets the stage by offering tips for beginning your planning process and explaining the waivers available. For those districts looking for support with financial recovery, it offers information about FEMA Public Assistance Grants, CARES Act funds and other strategies for increasing revenue and avoiding further debt. Lastly, the toolkit dives into details about meal service models—both for meals consumed at school and meals taken to-go. A number of other helpful resources are embedded within the toolkit.

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How Community Eligibility (CEP) Can Help
Parent and student taking grab n go meal

The Community Eligibility Provision enables eligible schools to serve free meals to all students, regardless of income.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a special school meal funding option of the National School Lunch Act that enables schools to provide free meals to all students. Just like textbooks and desks, under CEP, school meals are available to all students at no cost to them. And in the era of COVID-19, CEP can help support school nutrition departments as schools work to find new ways to feed students. 

CEP benefits students and schools. Kids get free meals, and when a child’s nutritional needs are met, they do better in school. CEP can reduce financial strain at home for families facing economic hardship due to COVID-19 and/or systematic inequalities. CEP promotes equity by eliminating the out-of-pocket costs for families and reducing stigma for school meals programs.

CEP is good for schools, too. It reduces administrative burden by eliminating school meals applications, counting and claiming by fee category, and unpaid meal charges. That's right - no unpaid meal charges under CEP! School nutrition staff are able to streamline meal service, making it easier to implement innovative service models, like meals in the classroom and hybrid schedules. These benefits taken together often result in CEP generating revenue for school nutrition budgets - CEP schools eliminate many overhead costs, eliminate school meal debt, and increase participation. Moreover, CEP is a 4-year cycle, meaning that adopting CEP this year can help a school's nutrition budget recover post-pandemic.

Learn more about CEP, including eligibility and applications, program operations, and FAQs, on our dedicated CEP page. Have questions or need extra support? Email us at bestpractices@strength.org - we are here to help.

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CEP
Boys eating breakfast in the classroom

Providing Universal Free School Meals

Compare three options for providing universal free school meals: the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Provision 2, and non-pricing.

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School Nutrition Staff
CEP
School Nutrition Employee Smiles While Preparing Food

Strategies for Finding Success with CEP

These strategies are designed to help you maximize the benefits of CEP by improving meal participation rates, increasing your Identified Student Percentage (ISP), and generating revenue with savvy business practices.

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Resources Created by Our Partners
meal prep

Many organizations are developing resources, tools, trackers, and webinars to support schools and child nutrition programs. We are compiling them here.

Our Back-to-School Resource Tracker includes three tabs: one for school nutrition resources, one for general education resources, and another for out-of-school-time programs. The school nutrition tab includes a dozens of tools developed by partners like the School Nutrition Association, LunchAssist, the Institute for Child Nutrition, and many more. The education tab includes recommendations from national organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, resources on topics like trauma and social-emotional learning in response to the pandemic, and trackers that are logging state back-to-school plans. This Google spreadsheet is locked and cannot be edited. However, you can still sort, filter, and search to find the resources of interest to you. 

If your organization has developed a resource that may be of use to others and should be included in the tracker, please let us know by filling out this submission form