School foodservice has been re-imagined after the COVID-19 crisis sent kids home for distance learning.
Meals could no longer served in cafeterias equipped with salad bars, but instead were distributed by curbside pickup or sent out to neighborhoods in school buses.
The Packer’s Tom Karst visited July 14 with Stephanie Bruce, director of nutrition service for California’s Palm Springs Unified School District, about the challenges COVID has presented, and the adjustments her district has made.
Bruce, who on June 15 participated in a virtual school foodservice workshop at United Fresh LIVE!, said it has become important to give students shelf-stable and individually-wrapped meals with the new distribution model.
Salad bars could no longer be used; prepackaged and whole produce was utilized instead.
The need hasn’t gone away with the end of the school term, as the school district continues to provide meals to children in the summer.
“Last summer we did 65,000 meals all summer long,” she said. On the first day of summer feeding this year, she said the district served 120,000 meals. “We beat last year’s record in one day,” she said.
Meeting school foodservice needs immediately after the COVID crisis began required her management team to spend 16 hours days at work. “It was just get the job done and, move forward,” she said.
It is hard to know when school foodservice returns to “normal,” she said.
While the challenges can be great, Bruce said she wants to continue to innovate and deliver nutritious meals and fresh produce to students.
“What I’m looking forward to is the opportunity to be really creative through all of this and to completely change the look of school lunches,” she said. “So many people are thinking this is taking a step back, that we’re going back to the Dark Ages,” she said. “I say no way. It’s a great opportunity to try out some things that are different, and see what works.”