Operations

An inside look at how Chartwells K12 is preparing for the fall

The food-management company has come up with six different models that school nutrition teams can implement.
Photograph: Shutterstock

As districts continue to grapple with how to start school safely in the fall, Chartwells K12 has released its “Ready to Reopen” plan, which includes six different service models to guide schools on how to best serve students. 

“We kind of realized that these are a natural fit for most of the scenarios that districts are planning for right now and that's how we came up with the six models, because we have a confidence in our ability to execute them,” Chartwells K12 CEO Belinda Oakley says. 

Here’s a look at each of the models and what they entail. 

Meal service in the classroom 

The main benefit of classroom meal delivery is that it minimizes the number of students moving about a given school, Oakley says, noting that "what we're hearing most often is a preference to try and figure out how to keep the students from moving around too much to limit exposure.”

One of the downsides to this model, however, is that students would likely have fewer menu choices since they won’t be able to select from different stations in the cafeteria, Oakley says. Chartwells K12 has the ability for students to digitally pre-order so they would be able to have at least some variety and choice when dining in the classroom. 

Whatever dishes do make it onto the menu, they would have to be able to be packaged individually. “We need to make sure that it's a style of food that requires limited handling,” Oakley says. “The condiments are all in pre-packaged items rather than any kind of condiment tables, the salad is all pre-packed, all the fruit components are pre-packed, so that again, students really only touch the meal that they're eating at the time.”

Another potential downside to serving meals in the classroom is the expense. 

“It's probably the costliest option of any of the six when you think about the additional packaging and the additional labor and custodial support, and also for the teachers too,” Oakley says. “You think about a traditional lunchtime: Students are in the cafeteria and there are typically volunteers or other folks who are actually monitoring the lunch service, and in [classroom delivery], you're really looking for the teachers to also be monitoring the lunch service so there's quite a bit for the district consider.”

Hallway or common area meal distribution 

A similar, but less costly, option than classroom meal delivery is distributing meals through hallways or other common areas. With this model, students would visit a designated station to pick up their meal, similarly to how they would if they participated in breakfast after the bell. 

In accordance with social distancing measures, students would be released in waves to pick up food and bring it back to their classrooms. Menu items, as well as condiments and utensils, would also be pre-packaged.

“I think the hallway or common area model gives them a little bit of cost relief because we can essentially set up a station in the hallway, and you are able to kind of staff it with a smaller labor force,” Oakley says. 

Cafeteria meal service

This model is the closest to traditional school meal service and also provides students with the most choice. Students would be able to visit different stations in the cafeteria; however, salad bars and condiment tables would remain closed. All meals at the stations would also be individually wrapped. 

This cafeteria model relies heavily on signage, so Chartwells K12 has come out with a signage package for schools. “It essentially covers everything from decals that help encourage social distancing to the reminders to sanitize before and afterwards,” Oakley says. 

Some schools may also decide on a hybrid model where students come to the cafeteria to pick up their meals, but then take them back to the classroom to eat. 

Grab-and-go meals off the bus

Schools using the off-the-bus model would have students pick up their meals for the day while getting off the school bus. This option is ideal for schools that are having students come to school in-person for only morning or afternoon classes, Oakley says. 

“Essentially, your morning students could come in and as they get off the bus, they get their breakfast and then their lunch for the day and take it back to the classroom,” Oakley says. “The afternoon cohort obviously would receive their lunch and possibly a snack.”

Take-home meal kits

Take-home meals would be suited to schools that are using a hybrid model of learning, in which students attend class in person for a couple days a week and participate in remote learning the rest, Oakley says. Under this model, students would receive a bag of meals to take home for the days that they are learning remotely. 

Schools with remote learning only could also use this model and have students and parents pick up the meals at the start of each week curbside.

“If someone's actually doing a full week of virtual, then it is [a] 100% shelf-stable kit,” Oakley says. “It's all pre-packaged individually in that box so the idea would be that the student really gets that sealed box to take home with them.”

Home-delivery meal kits

Home-delivery meal kits would be comprised of shelf-stable menu items shipped directly to students’ houses. Schools looking at remote learning may choose this option since it has the least amount of in-person contact. 

“It's [an] extremely low-touch option that really is probably the least amount of risk in student wellness and safety,” Oakley says.

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