During extended school closures, school meals have moved out of the cafeteria and into the student’s home. Free breakfasts and lunches have been available to all students in Maryland at meal distribution sites since initial pandemic closures in March 2020. Even upon return to the classroom, meals will most likely be eaten in the classroom to help students maintain social distance.
Families across Maryland and the country have experienced increased economic hardship due to the pandemic. 55% of Maryland SNAP-Ed parents surveyed in summer 2020 indicated that their households were food insecure, meaning they do not have access to the food they need for an active, healthy life.
During this time, school meals are a critical resource for feeding families and stretching household food budgets. Promoting school meal programs, and highlighting the healthy foods they contain, can help families take full advantage of this resource.
Here are some ideas for promoting school meals during online or hybrid instruction:
Share information with families:
- Share meal distribution information: location of the nearest distribution site, days and hours, rules for safe pickup, whether single or multiple days’ meals are distributed. Use this editable flyer to share your school-specific information.
- Promote off-hours meal distribution sites: These are available in some counties to help parents who can’t pick up meals during the workday.
- Encourage completion of meal application forms: Free and Reduced Meal (FARM) application deadlines may be delayed this year due to the availability of free meals for all through the fall, but completed forms will still be necessary for when students return to school. Share information about accessing forms (online and print options), and deadlines for submitting. Use this flyer or social media post to remind parents.
Promote the menu:
- Share the daily menu: Include the next day’s breakfast and lunch menu in Dojo, parent emails, or social media posts.
- Taste meal components: Identify menu items that could be used for a virtual group tasting. Follow the tasting rules when tasting an item on the menu to make it a special experience.
- Play the name game: Have students come up with creative names for menu items, using vocabulary words, alliteration, or similes.
Engage with students and school meals
- Hold lunch bunches: Use lunchtime with the teacher as an incentive, or rotate students through a lunch bunch schedule, to create time for mealtime discussion.
- Ask questions: Discuss the next day’s lunch plans with students at the end of the day. How and when will they pick up their meal? Are there barriers to students accessing free meals? Contact the food and nutrition services department at your school district to discuss your concerns.