School Meal Programs Impacted by the Pandemic

February 18, 2021
Contributing Expert: Stanya LeMay | Senior Account Manager

School Meal Participation Is Down Due to Stay-at-Home Orders  

As the coronavirus continues to keep many parts of the country shut down, schools have no choice but to remain closed in efforts to keep the virus from spreading. While stay-at-home orders are keeping students and staff safe, they are also resulting in low participation in school meal programs. In-person learning can be substituted with online classes, but there is no virtual replacement for meal programs.  

According to Vox, "On a regular, non-pandemic school day, the National School Lunch Program provides free or low-cost meals to 29.7 million kids, while the School Breakfast Program reaches 14.6 million students daily." 

It's not just kids getting fed, either. Entire families may rely on school meal programs to meet their regular nutritional intake. Shutdowns not only put the community at risk of going hungry, but it also means school meal programs are struggling to make a profit. The School Nutrition Association reports that 62% of districts in the U.S. will report a loss on their school meal programs during the 2020/2021 school year. School meal programs need to remain profitable to continue to help feed students and their families.  

Foodservice Workers are Keeping Communities Fed 

We often hear about frontline workers in hospitals, grocery stores, public transportation, and manufacturing, but some of the most important and less recognized are school foodservice employees. They have continued to provide meals to kids and their families in their local communities since the start of the pandemic and play the essential role in determining how the food is going to be distributed. 

We have seen everything from daily walk-up meal programs, serving three meals a day to families in need via drive-thru in the school's parking lot, to a weekly pick up with large boxes of food being prepared. These foodservice teams work around the clock to make sure meals are produced and delivered safely.  

One of the largest hurdles for foodservice teams is the transportation of food. Not only are they moving large quantities of food from the school kitchens to the site of delivery, but they also need to ensure they are doing it safely and with less contact to reduce the risk of spreading illness. 


Solutions for Safe and Effective Meal Serving

To combat meal program limitations, foodservice workers turn to creative solutions to get food to those in need. Some foodservice workers are taking advantage of existing bus routes to transport food to various local neighborhoods. Traditional school buses are also being transformed into mobile meal-serving buses for easy transportation. The buses feature booth seating, coolers for food storage, and the school's branding on the bus's exterior.  

As part of EIS's ongoing COVID-19 response efforts, we've developed several safety solutions, including products specific to the education market. We offer a variety of mobile carts for serving, storage, and transportation. These carts are designed explicitly for foodservice and school use, with durable casters, easy to clean laminate or powder-coated metal surfaces, and ample storage. Our classic mobile serving cart also features an acrylic shield to create additional separation and safety.  

EIS's mobile carts are excellent high-quality alternatives for those providing food to those in need during the pandemic and beyond. Reach out to us for more information on our mobile serving carts or any of your school’s furniture and decor needs.