Safely Distributing School Meals During COVID-19

Distribution Models for Meals Eaten Away from School

Schools that are serving meals to virtual and hybrid learners who are eating away from school can consider the following models:

Schools should implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies outlined in Mitigation Strategies for All School Meal Distribution Models section above. Distribution models used for meals eaten away from school tend to be set up in an outdoor setting, like the school parking lot or local park, but there are some models (drive-through or walk-up) that can be moved indoors if weather or other circumstances limit a safe distribution for all students and staff. While outdoor activities are generally lower risk than indoor activities, there are still important ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like staying home when sick, social distancing, wearing a mask, handwashing, and cleaning and disinfection.

Meals should be pre-ordered or pre-set and served in bulk meal kits, boxes, bags, or packages. Where possibleexternal icon*, multiple days of meals should be served at once, ideally enough for at least one week, to reduce the number of pick-ups needed. Meals that will be eaten away from school should include food safety, storage, and reheating instructions that are easy to follow, accommodate all reading levels, and include visuals or graphics where appropriate. Also, instructions should be translated into languages commonly spoken in the community.

*Visit Child Nutrition Programs: COVID-19 Waivers by Stateexternal icon to find out which waivers and flexibilities have been approved in your state.

Drive-Through or Walk-Up Models

In this model, schools set up meal distribution outside of the school building. Students and/or their families walk up to a meal distribution table or stay in their vehicles while receiving meals. If soap and water are not readily available for handwashing, staff should practice frequent hand hygiene using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

  • Stagger meal distribution times and consider having multiple places at which meals can be served.
  • Establish a meal distribution point(s) and clearly mark with directional cues or signs.
  • Employees should wear a mask and avoid making physical contact with others. Use physical barriers in areas where it is difficult for individuals to remain at least 6 feet apart.
    • Use carts and/or a large tray to pass meals to students and families or place meals directly into vehicle. Clean and disinfect carts, trays, and tables between use.
      • For walk-up meals, place meals on a rolling cart or table and then transfer to the pick-up station. Set up an extra table to increase space between persons.
      • For drive-through meals, use rolling carts or large trays to pass meals to families or place meals directly in the vehicle without contact (e.g., the trunk of vehicle, a sealed food container such as a cooler or plastic sealed bin, or in bed of pickup truck).
  • Encourage students and families to wear a mask when picking up meals, including when receiving meals from inside of their vehicle.
  • Create a plan in case weather limits outdoor meal pickup. Work with school administration to set up a point of meal service in a well-ventilated indoor or covered space, like at the school building entrance or a parking garage. Programs may also consider setting up a canopy or an open-air pop-up tent to shield staff and meals from weather.

Delivery Models

Schools deliver meals directly to a student’s home, to a bus stop, or other community location that families can safely access. Staff riding in shared vans or buses should wear masks, remain physically distanced, and weather permitting, keep windows open to increase outdoor air ventilation. These practices should also be followed, as applicable, when staff leave the vehicle to distribute and deliver meals. If soap and water are not readily available for handwashing, school nutrition employees should practice frequent hand hygiene using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. To clean and disinfect school buses or other shared vehicles, see guidance for bus transit operators.

school nutrition program operators distribute meals to homes and other community places

Mobile route delivery: In this model, school nutrition program operators distribute meals in familiar, accessible community locations, which might include a library, church parking lot, or local housing authority.

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