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Engaging the School Community
COVID meal distribution

The resources in this section will help you engage your school community to support the success of your school meals program.

For Families

Given that this school year has been unlike any other, it’s more important now than ever to communicate with families about school meals—who they’re available to, how to access them, what’s on the menu and more. This School Meals Marketing Toolkit was created to help you get the word out to families about meals available for kids. It includes a variety of ready to use and customizable assets—in both English and Spanish—to help you quickly and easily communicate with families. Scroll down for social media images, sample social media posts, postcards and more.

If you'd like to send a letter home to families notifying them about the availability of free meals, this Customizable Letter to Families Announcing Free Meals for All Kids can help you get started. To learn about other ideas for engaging families, check out this case study: Adapting School Nutrition During COVID-19.

For Educators & Administrators

School meals look different now than they have in the past. The Educator's Guide to School Meals During the 2020-2021 School Year highlights what school meals look like during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and offers ideas for assessing food insecurity and helping to connect students with meals.

The Importance of School Meals explains why school meals are so critical for students and how school meals programs operate. 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. 

The case study, Adapting School Nutrition During COVID-19, also shares best practices from Vaughn Next Century Learning Center on how they successfully engage the broader school community in the design and implementation of their school meals program.

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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School Lunch
Summer Meals
Alicia Escoto serves meals to students

Adapting School Nutrition During COVID-19

Vaughn Food Services continues to reach kids during COVID-19 by collaborating with families and the entire Vaughn staff, and by serving meals that kids love.

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Innovative Approaches & Successful Models
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Program Options & Nationwide Waivers
Meals outside for COVID

This school year isn't 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. 

On October 9th, the USDA announced the extension of several key summer meals waivers and provided the option to utilize the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) or the Seamless Summer Option (SSO) through June 30, 2021. This allows schools and non-school sponsors to operate the summer meals programs, which will ease administrative burdens, simplify counting and claiming, and enhance access to meals, especially in communities implementing distance learning or hybrid schedule models. Our Summary of Current COVID-19 Child Nutrition Response Waivers reflects these waivers.This summary was last updated on 4/8/2021 to include the waiver allowing SFSP sponsors that operated in FY 2019 to apply this summer as experienced sponsors. It also includes the extension of deadlines relating to Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) reporting and election for SY2021-2022 as well as the extension of eight key summer meals program waivers through summer 2021 operations.

The USDA has approved several state-requested waivers, including Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program (FFVP) waivers and Provision 2 flexibility waivers, among others. (These are listed on the USDA's COVID-19 waivers page under "Additional Flexibilities.")

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 looks 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.

We’ve created a number of resources to help school nutrition staff plan for meal service operations under a variety of scenarios, which reflect the changes in place for the 2020-2021 school year aimed at keeping students and staff safe amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For most schools, meal service looks very different now than it has in the past. Our Equipment List for Meal Service SY20-21 highlights new and existing equipment items that can be used to serve meals to students in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria, or to go home throughout the existing pandemic environment. Equipment Tips for Serving Meals in the Classroom offers guidance as schools consider how to handle meal delivery, in or to the classroom. Strategies to Increase Meal Participation during COVID-19 features a variety of ways to increase meal participation shared from FNS leaders across the nation. You will find practices to engage your school community members, increase communication practices, marketing strategies and more!

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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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Afterschool Meals Resources
women packs meals into boxes

Both school and community organizations can help feed kids this school year with afterschool meals and snacks.

Both school and non-school sponsors have the opportunity serve meals and snacks during the school year through the CACFP At-Risk Afterschool Meals component, whether alone or in conjunction with the summer meals programs or school meals programs. Additionally, schools can offer afterschool snacks through NSLP. 

Although the afterschool enrichment waiver issued in the spring of 2020 has not been extended, USDA guidance for this school year explicitly permits virtual and take-home activities. (See Question #19 in the USDA's recent Q&A memo.) Combined with the extension of the non-congregate, meal service time, and parent or guardian meal pick-up waivers for the CACFP and NSLP, this permits bulk meal distribution for off-site consumption. Please note, however, that guidance from USDA indicates that the meal service time waiver does not allow for meal distribution during the school day if children are attending an in-person school or in-person program for virtual learners. Additionally, please work with your state agency regarding expectations for attendance records. 

If you're looking for ideas on virtual activities, we have compiled suggestions and links to last 12 weeks. We also have a resource with links to printable materials that can be distributed along with meals if your sites served children who may not have reliable access to technology.

Resources

Afterschool Meals
Coronavirus

Virtual Afterschool Enrichment Ideas

This provides links to online activities that can be shared with kids in order to meet the afterschool enrichment activity requirement while providing non-congregate meals.

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Afterschool Meals
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Louisa-VA_Summer Meals

Afterschool Enrichment Print Materials

This provides links to worksheets and handouts that can be printed and distributed along with non-congregate meals in order to meet the afterschool enrichment activity requirement.

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Back-to-School Meal Service Webinar Series
meals picked up on school bus route

Watch our back-to-school webinar series

This series is focused on feeding kids during the 2020-2021 school year. Hear from NKH experts on waivers, CEP, and school funding, school district leadership, and school nutrition professionals as they explain how back-to-school meal service looks in their community. 

**Please note the air date of each webinar as waiver extensions have been issued throughout this webinar series. 

 

Register for our upcoming webinars here. 

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