COVID reshaped how Michigan schools provide meals. Will the changes stick?

This text is a part of State of Well being, a collection about how Michigan communities are rising to handle well being challenges. It’s made doable with funding from the Michigan Well being Endowment Fund.

When COVID-19 stay-home orders went into impact in March 2020, Plymouth-Canton Group Faculties’ (P-CCS) meals service workforce made enormous modifications — and quick. Meals service workers at all the district’s 24 buildings, every of which has its personal kitchen, reworked how they fed 18,000 college students virtually in a single day.

P-CCS responded with an ever-evolving program that originally offered free breakfasts and lunches seven days per week through pickup websites at choose college buildings. As college students started returning to class on a part-time foundation, they ate some meals at college and introduced others house with them. Meal pickup places stay open this summer season.

“We don’t have a central kitchen. We don’t have a central warehouse. Everybody had run their very own kitchen and cooked on website,” says Kristen Hennessey, P-CCS director of meals service. “We needed to reopen a complete new college district meals service from scratch inside 48 hours.”
Kristen Hennessey.
When COVID-19 prompted shifts in how, when, the place, and to whom college meals had been served, a lot of Michigan’s faculties responded with wildly profitable meal applications. Hennessey and plenty of different Michigan schooling professionals hope these shifts encourage everlasting modifications to federal college meal funding that would imply higher diet for all Michigan college students.

“Why is it that at school you may get a guide, you may get transportation, however with the intention to eat you must show your revenue? As an alternative of an opt-in program, free meals must be an opt-out. Then you’re taking the burden off that baby standing in line,” Hennessey says. “How good would it not be for a household when if one thing modified, if they’d a foul month financially, they may simply inform their youngsters, ‘Go forward and take free lunch right now’? A well-fed baby is a baby who is able to study.”

Innovating to feed college students

Each federal and state coverage modifications have allowed faculties to increase their meal applications because the pandemic hit. Federal baby diet program waivers allowed faculties to innovate new methods to feed college students exterior of the lunchroom and prolonged federal meal {dollars} to all college students, not simply these assembly revenue pointers. Hundreds of Michigan households picked up free meals from distribution websites together with faculties, college bus stops, and residence complexes. Summer time Digital Advantages to Kids funded meals to college students qualifying free of charge and diminished lunches when the 2020 college yr ended.
A Plymouth-Canton Group Faculties staffer prepares meals for pickup.
As a result of faculties are required by legislation to offer meals for college students, and digital schooling choices are most definitely right here to remain, Hennessey believes that P-CCS’ hybrid strategy will proceed after the pandemic has handed.

“We’re coming again subsequent yr with a extra simplified however higher menu, extra sturdy in high quality however easier in elements,” Hennessey says. “The youngsters are going to love it higher and the dietary high quality goes to be increased.”
Carolyn Thomas.
Macomb Intermediate College District (MISD) took an modern strategy to feeding college students from its faculties, which serve youngsters with emotional or bodily impairments. Schoolbuses retrofitted with thermal coolers delivered seven days’ price of meals to college students’ properties weekly. The 105 bus routes attain each nook of Macomb County, in addition to parts of Wayne, St. Claire, and Oakland counties, the place a few of MISD’s 1,500 college students dwell.

“In our inhabitants, there are dad and mom who cannot depart their baby. And though we went again to face-to-face September 9, we nonetheless have households who’ve chosen to stay distant,” says Carolyn Thomas, meals service advisor at MISD. “We’ll be operating meal deliveries all through the summer season too. A lot of our buildings run year-round.”

An extension of the federal waiver program will enable faculties together with P-CCS to distribute these meals once more this summer season. Schooling leaders on the state degree say additional extensions will solely profit Michigan youngsters.

“The analysis has been very clear. The nearer the kid eats to a take a look at, the higher they do,” provides Diane Golzynski, director, workplace of well being and diet providers for the Michigan Division of Schooling. “These applications are designed to not solely guarantee diet for teenagers who do not have meals at house to depend on however to make sure that they are often the very best learners doable. Simply as a trainer is taught the best way to help with lecturers, our district meals administrators are there to show wholesome consuming habits, the significance of meals and sharing meals with others, and the influence these meals have on the remainder of their lives.”

Wholesome meals all the time

On March 25, Golzynski testified at a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Diet and Forestry listening to on “Youngster Diet Reauthorization: Wholesome Meals and Wholesome Futures.” To make the case that breakfast and lunch must be free for all college students in all faculties, she shared that eight out of 10 Michigan college students qualifying free of charge or reduced-price meals ate breakfast at college on daily basis earlier than the pandemic. Nevertheless, one other 70,000 college students who certified for the applications had been enrolled in districts that didn’t serve breakfast. 

She offers two examples of those districts. One Michigan college district serving extra prosperous households balks on the further effort it might take to make meals out there to the 10% of its college students (1,000 youngsters) who qualify free of charge or diminished meals. One other district, with 98% of its college students assembly eligibility requirements, doesn’t need its neighborhood to suppose it’s poor.
Diane Golzynski.
“Because the adults who’re chargeable for these youngsters, we should present each software out there to us to safeguard their future success together with nutritious meals,” Golzynski testified. “… Because of this, we should present a wholesome breakfast at college in a fashion which reduces stigma and will increase the alternatives for kids to take part, and never simply on the day of the take a look at however on daily basis through which studying is a important a part of their day.”

In her testimony, Golzynski additionally famous that U.S. college meals’ sturdy diet requirements are important for introducing youngsters to wholesome meals and ensuring that they’ve entry to them. She shared that extra Michigan college students had been saying “sure” to more healthy meals, together with vegetables and fruit. With a common free breakfast and lunch program, all college students can be assured at the least two wholesome meals a day. Wholesome diet can be as out there as textbooks and academics. Youngsters from households with revenue challenges wouldn’t face embarrassment. Immigrant households would not need to be afraid.

“One of many issues the pandemic has taught us is that stigma may be very actual for everybody. The extra we will take that stigma away, the higher we will do serving our youngsters. In the course of the pandemic, all meals had been free to all youngsters. Households have been capable of take part who weren’t prepared to take action earlier than. They did not need anybody at college to know that they certified,” Golzynski says. “Two, consider all the issues now we have with ICE. Households didn’t need the federal government to know the place they had been.”
Laurie Solotorow.
With common free college meals, youngsters from households that don’t qualify for SNAP or different meals help would nonetheless be assured two wholesome meals if their dad and mom weren’t offering them, for no matter purpose. 

“When it is common, it removes all apprehension from the college administration,” says Laurie Solotorow, member of the state of Michigan’s Meals Safety Council. “It removes [the school’s] means to say, ‘No, we’re not going to try this.’ It turns into a part of the common college day, and it’s anticipated that administration and college workers will help that a part of the college day.”

The administration and meals service workers at P-CCS and MISD don’t have any such apprehension. They’re satisfied that offering free meals to all college students who need them must be as frequent as studying, writing, and arithmetic.

“Diet must be a part of the academic day. Hungry youngsters cannot study. They cannot they usually do not. We’d like to ensure meals are an integral a part of the schooling expertise,” Thomas says. “We’re prepared. We have been feeding all youngsters no matter their revenue degree for 15 months and we are going to proceed subsequent yr. The obstacles we did have in arising with these totally different meals service fashions and making them work — that is throughout.”  

A contract author and editor, Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness, and the humanities. She is improvement information editor for Speedy Development Media and chairs The Tree Amigos, Metropolis of Wyoming Tree Fee. Her most interesting accomplishment is her 5 wonderful grownup youngsters. You’ll be able to contact Estelle at or

P-CCS pictures by Nick Hagen. All different pictures courtesy of the themes.

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