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Food programs at the heart of back to school safety

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As the clock ticks down to the first day of school, many districts are working on plans to find the best way to allow students to learn, while also keeping them safe.

But a bigger challenge may be how to safely get them fed.

“There is no textbook to tell us what to do, how to do this, in all my years of being in foodservice we’ve never went through anything like this just like I think every teacher and administrator can tell us this, we don’t know what to expect,” said Becky Heinert.

In just a few weeks, students will be filling the halls of schools across the state eager to learn, but also eager to eat.

And how to safely feed your child has kept your district’s nutrition coordinator busy.

And major changes are coming. KX News sat down Monday with Michelle Wagner, the Bismarck Public School’s Child Nutrition Director, who says they still plan on using regular trays and silverware– with a catch.

“I guess I just have a hard time filling our landfill with styrofoam, even more than it already is, so to start out with, we’re using our regular trays, regular silverware. But they won’t be touching any of it, it’s all going to be behind the counter. Before, they would go through, they would get their tray, they would get their milk, they would get their silverware, they would do their salad bar, all of that is pretty much gone,” said Wagner.

Speaking of the salad bar, it’s popular among students, but this school year, expect major changes.

“Unfortunately we won’t be able to offer a self serve-salad bar, so we may still use that piece of equipment but what we’ll have to do is like, cup up pre-portioned everything and put a lid on it so if a student needs to grab it their not grabbing the tongs and every item. Or if we do put up the salad bar, we would have our staff depending on the school capability, we would have our staff serve out the salad bar items,” said Wagner.

She adds if cases continue to creep up and some students return to distance learning, profits will take a big hit.

“Our expenses are gonna be a little bit more and I’m really afraid our revenue is not gonna be where it’s at, we bring in a lot of revenue from a la carte, in our middle schools and high schools and if we only have half the kids in the building then that’s half the revenue that we would bring in for the a la carte sales, so it is a little nerve-racking,” said Wagner.

Meanwhile across the river here in Mandan, things aren’t much different. The big exception being they will be using plastic utensils this school year. KX News talked with school officials and they tell us the purchase of those utensils as well as to-go containers, just in case, have taken a big bite out of their budget.

Heinert runs the food program in Mandan and says thanks to the pandemic, not all students will get to eat with their friends.

“There is going to be some kids that will be eating in the cafeteria, and they’re also gonna be some kids taking trays back to their classrooms and hopefully we can make that all work and keep them safe and keep them healthy, that is our main concern,” said Heinert.

She adds students need to be ready for some of their favorite items not to be available this year.

“We have to run kind of a tight ship, because our budgets are kind of outta whack right now, because of all the to-go containers, and we’ve already been told product availability whether it be some food product or some individual wrapped product and to-go containers are gonna be hard to find,” said Heinert.

Both women stressed that lunch will not be free this school year, so everyone is strongly encouraged to fill out the application for free or reduced school meals.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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