Indiana schools implement cafeteria changes to keep kids safe


BEECH GROVE – Schools have many factors they have to weigh before reopening, and a big decision on the list is how to run food services safely.

Schools do much more than just teach.

“We have been working on the menus a lot,” said Morgan Stasik.

Food services play a major role, and Stasik and Dulcie Holcomb are making sure everything is prepared safely at Beech Grove City Schools. Stasik and Holcomb have spent months preparing multiple menus for their district. The menus vary from in-person learning, virtual or hybrid.

“The district pays very close attention to what the Marion County Health Department is saying,” said Holcomb, the director of dining services.

“We have to follow guidelines set by the state and the IDOE (Indiana Department of Education),” said Stasik, the dietitian for Beech Grove schools.

Class is back in session virtually, but in a few days, kids will return to the school. That is when elementary students will be eating lunch in their classrooms, while other plans are in the place for the middle and high schoolers.

“Here, they’re going to use this room and the two gyms to space people out,” Holcomb explained. “We have a lot of decals that our company, Chartwell, has produced, and we can just order. It helps teaching the kids social distancing.”

The plan is to have almost everything pre-packaged. Cafeteria workers will serve kids to eliminate cross contamination. Schools like Beech Grove have come up with plans to limit cash payments for lunch.

These policies are being put into place at schools across Indiana.

“We all need to be in this together and working our hardest,” said Michael Aviah, the public health education specialist for the Hendricks County Health Department.

He is working with schools in his community closely.

“As they are walking through the lines, there should be tape on the ground or some kind of indicator that allows students to still be in the line but be six feet apart,” said Aviah. “Children can be a little germy, I think we all know that. So, schools should definitely be on the lookout for eliminating self-serve food items.”

Aviah says the conversation should start at home. He suggests parents talk with their students before heading back to class about how to act during lunch time.

“Kids love to share their food; I was one of them,” said Aviah. “’I want your chips and crackers, and you can take my fruit.’ We don’t want any food sharing right now.”

Stasik added, “We’ve been trying to keep our menus simple but still nutritious and have very much a variety of foods.”

Feeding kids nutritious meals is just as important as keeping things clean.

“The only thing they’re going to have to do is say thank you for tray, grab a milk, and they’re done,” said Holcomb.

Be sure to check with your child’s district to make sure you know the plan as schools reopen. Many districts are offering at-home services for kids staying virtual.

The CDC has released considerations for schools are they reopen. Below is a list of recommendations for food services:

  • Have children bring their own meals as feasible, or serve individually plated meals in classrooms instead of in a communal dining hall or cafeteria, while ensuring the safety of children with food allergies.
  • Use disposable food service items (e.g., utensils, dishes). If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher. Individuals should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items.
  • If food is offered at any event, have pre-packaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family-style meal. Avoid sharing food and utensils and ensure the safety of children with food allergies.

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