National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day Celebrates School Lunch Ingenuity During a Pandemic

woman safely packing lunches for pickup

This year’s KIWI National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day celebration will look different from past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting us all. As school officials, teachers, parents, and kids adjust to the new normal this school year brings, we’d like to shine a light on those feeding students during these uncertain times. Kids around the country rely on school meals and school nutrition professionals have stepped up and overcome challenges to continue serving this need. 

The Many Ways Schools are Distributing Food

In these unprecedented times, schools have had to pivot and lean on their own ingenuity and those of their colleagues and fellow schools around the country to create new models for feeding their communities. While many started out with daily curb-side pickup options, distribution schedules have often been modified to occur only a few times a week and fit a time of day ideal for busy parents. 

Wanting to offer families convenient nutrition during this hectic time and create revenue, many school nutrition programs have introduced affordable family meal kits in addition to offering the free student meals. Schools are also offering recipe ideas for the food they provide, video demonstrations, kid chef kits, and enhanced communication via social media channels. 

A Few Benefits of Participating in Your School’s Free Meal Program

With the extension of crucial waivers from the USDA offering flexibility in meal delivery amongst other perks, meals are still free for all students regardless of any income qualifying matters. What many don’t realize is that the success and funding of each school’s program relies on every student accepting the free meals. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) encourages all students to participate and reassures that it in no way takes away a benefit from a student in financial need. Families who participate are able to stretch their weekly grocery budget with the supplementation of school meals. They may also enjoy the convenience of ready-made options that offer their kids a sense of normalcy, nutrition, and fun.

Creative School Meal Spotlight

Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District’s “Take and Bake Meals”

In the School Nutrition October publication, SNA highlighted a few standout school nutrition teams in their story, “Mastering the Meal Kit”

The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas offers “Take and Bake Meals” two days a week, providing kid-favorite entrees like Grilled Chicken Fajitas and Crispy Chicken Tenders and Mac-and-Cheese. The meals feed a family of four and take the prep work out of a parent’s already busy day.

Waltham Public Schools in Massachusetts offer their families meals made from scratch, grab-n-go items, and grocery store staples on a weekly basis. Their Curbside Menu features five breakfast and five lunch meals, fruit and veggies, milk, and 100% fruit juice. They also offer family meal kits that parents can order online.

Waltham Public Schools’ Curbside Menu

Many schools around the country are seeing a dropoff in meals served. Much of it is because parents cannot get to the designated pickup area at the designated time or at all, due to work obligations or a lack of transportation. School nutrition professionals are working hard to answer this challenge. Alyssia Wright, executive director of Fulton County Schools’ nutrition program in Georgia recently sent school busses into the community to deliver meals, offering much needed relief for families. 

According to Brookings research, Congress offered monetary help for groceries via Pandemic EBT, which kept 2.5–3.5 million kids fed over the summer months. A NPR story explains that the “Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT, took the value of the school meals kids weren’t getting in the spring and put it—usually in a lump sum of a few hundred dollars—onto a debit card that families could use at the grocery store.” States have the option to participate in this plan but many plans in place over the summer have expired, according to NPR, without being renewed. 

Celebrating the Spirit of National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day

While parents may not be able to visit their child’s cafeteria this year on KIWI’s Lunch Day, there are still many ways to communicate with your school officials through virtual meetings, social media, and more. Some parents are also able to see what their kids are eating firsthand now that lunches are taking place in the home during virtual learning and may even be able to enjoy a midday meal together. If possible, parents can use this time to talk to their kids about nutrition and instill healthy eating habits with the help of school lunches.

We encourage you to stay engaged with your school during these transitional times and wish you and your family a healthy and safe school year. For more resources, visit The School Nutrition Association and check out KIWI’s healthy recipes for seasonal meal ideas and more.