School cafeterias should become less crowded

Saturday, August 1, 2020
My, how things change in a year. Jackie Yoes retired last year from East Side Elementary as cafeteria manager. No doubt, she would really have her hands full this August; she likely wouldn’t be in such a sea of kiddos.
T-G File Photo by Dawn Hankins

School lunch detail next week in Bedford County may necessitate extended meal periods and possibly even students and teachers eating in the classroom or at outside, weather permitting.

Regardless of where students eat, COVID-19 has certainly changed the way students will receive their daily nourishment. That concept of “thinking outside the box” will land on the shoulders of each of the 15 principals, who are being tasked with working it all out within the confines of their size facility.

While USDA and Tennessee Health Department rules still apply, cafeteria workers will be even more busy than usual, it seems. Workers will have to make sure eating areas are thoroughly cleaned according to state health standards.

Eating utensils will have to be wrapped for sanitary purposes. With self-service lunch lines out of order during COVID-19, students will have to-go meals handed to the them by cafeteria employees or teachers.

During a July study session, school board members asked Janet Clarkson, child nutrition supervisor, if students can still bring lunches from home. Board members also asked about protocols for doing so, given COVID-19 risks.

“As far as child nutrition goes, we cannot require a child to eat lunch at school,” answered Clarkson. “That is not my call to make.”

Clarkson said once meals begin Aug. 4, Bedford County students will again have the opportunity to receive free breakfast and lunches. The breakfasts handed out in the classroom are grab-and-go meals prepared by cafeteria staff.

“We may need to rethink something,” said Clarkson. “If it’s not working, we’re going to try to fix it, the best way we can.”

School superintendent Don Embry said, “Everybody in this room knows we don’t have an unlimited pot of money . . . tight on our budget. We don’t want to totally load it on teacher assistants but at the same time, we don’t want to load it up on teachers either. That’s why I was saying . . . share the wealth a little bit, not to burden any one group during lunch.”

Masks will not be required in student eating areas, though they’re being “highly encouraged” by school officials. As for social distancing at 6-feet, as required by state standards, Embry has said that will not be possible with local school building configurations and 3-feet will be at best achieved.

“We all know it’s not going to be possible to do 6-foot [social distancing] because you’d have to take basically half of your kids out. A minimum of 3-foot works . . . space your tables wide enough far apart to where they’re sitting at least 3-foot apart. That’s when you start heavily encouraging masks.”

So what are other states doing in their back-to-school plans in comparison, you might ask? One North Carolina school child nutrition supervisor said recently, “Right now, kids have about 20 minutes to eat their meal. If [we have] them coming into the cafeteria and keeping six feet apart, they’ll take 20 minutes just to get through [the lunch line], let alone them sitting down and having that time to eat. When you do lunch in the classroom, it can be a part of class structure. So the kids are eating while teachers are teaching. Really, that’s the way I see them doing it. That way, it does not interfere with instruction.”

Lunch-friendly USDA recipes for kiddos

Chocolate Chip Yogurt Cookies

Yield 36 cookies

Total cost to make is $1.86. That is 0.05 cents per cookie

1/2 C. sugar

1/2 C. brown sugar (firmly packed)

1/2 C. margarine

1/2 C. non-fat plain yogurt

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3/4 C. all-purpose flour

1 C. whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 C. chocolate chips, miniature or carob chips

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar and margarine; beat until light and fluffy. Add yogurt and vanilla. Blend well. Stir in flour and baking soda; mix well. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto un-greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 for 8 to 12 minutes or until light and golden brown. Cool 1 minute. Remove cookies from baking sheet. Enjoy!

Corn and Zucchini Pancakes

This is a great weekend meal to prepare with your kids. Yield 12 pancakes

3 medium-size zucchini, trimmed and shredded

1 1/2 C. canned, fresh, or frozen corn

3 large eggs, whisked

1 C. whole-wheat flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

3 scallions, trimmed and chopped

1 1/2 Tbsp. oil

Optional for topping

plain, low-fat yogurt, salsa

Grate the zucchini. Drain the grated zucchini by putting it in a colander set over a bowl and pressing down. Let the zucchini sit in the colander for 10 minutes and press down again before removing from colander. Chop the scallions into small pieces. Break egg into a bowl or cup. Pour into larger bowl. Repeat with remaining two eggs. Whisk eggs in the large bowl until pale yellow. If using canned corn, drain, rinse and measure the corn. Add zucchini, corn and scallions to the eggs. Measure and add the flour, baking powder and salt to the eggs, corn and zucchini in large bowl. Mix everything in the large bowl until well combined. Heat skillet on the stove to medium. When the skillet is hot, add the oil. If using a nonstick skillet, you may need to add the oil before heating. Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop corn and zucchini mixture from the bowl into the skillet. Repeat to fill the skillet, leaving room between pancakes. Cook until the pancake bottoms are golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the pancakes and cook for 5 more minutes. Repeat with the remaining mixture. Serve and enjoy!

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