The lunchtime rush at Cleveland County Schools looks different this year. Gone for now are the days of kids crowded into lunch rooms, piled around tables and standing in long lines to grab trays full of food.
Instead, the rush is one of cafeteria staff moving down the hall, pushing carts full of food from classroom to classroom, bringing meals directly to students.
“We like to call it DoorDash at school,” said Jada Brown, child nutrition director at Cleveland County Schools.
The meals, which can vary from chicken, cheeseburgers, pizza or pasta depending on the day, are all still made by cafeteria staff each day and are still subject to the same requirements as any other meal. Each meal comes with a hot entrée and vegetable packaged together in an individual box with a clear lid. The boxes keep warm entrees and vegetables together and are loaded onto carts to deliver to classrooms.
Students can pick out milk and a vegetable to go with their meals when they are delivered.
“It’s the same meal choices they would normally get during the day pre-COVID, but they are packaged in a way that allows us to transport them safely to the classroom,” said Brown.
All of the boxes are disposable, and students get a new container each day, she added.
This new way of doing school lunches evolved from the drive-through lunches which started last spring when schools were forced to close by the coronavirus.
“The children aren’t allowed to come through the lunch lines and handle food. We had to develop a process of handing it to them,” said Brown.
Eating in the classrooms where they could stay spread out was decided as the best option.
To make the plan work Brown said the district had to invest in extra personal protection equipment for cafeteria staff, including masks and hand sanitizer, as well as the large metal carts staff use to deliver meals each day.
Brown said it took a few days for the classroom delivery model to find its footing, but with the year more than halfway over, it has become second-nature. On any given day cafeteria staff prepare and deliver more than 2,500 lunches and 1,500 breakfasts each day.
“The children absolutely love it,” she said. “The teachers have done a good job creating an environment where they learn and eat. A lot of teachers take the opportunity to read a book to their students. A lot of teachers have a way to make that an educational part of the day.”
With the school board now considering a move to five-days of instruction for elementary school students, Brown said her staff has already drafted plans to provide more meals each day. Those meals will still be eaten in the classroom using current delivery methods, she said.
Dustin George can be reached at 704-669-3337 or Dustin.George@ShelbyStar.com. Find him on Twitter @DustinLGeorge.