School District food service workers prepare for return of students

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — As some Philadelphia school students head into classrooms Monday for the first time in nearly a year, school food service workers are making the transition from "meals to go" to "meals in schools."

The School District of Philadelphia has provided more than 7.5 million boxed meals to students learning from home during the pandemic.  With some pre-K to second graders heading back into school buildings, the job for food service staff is not as simple as moving those "meals to go" – many of them with frozen components – back into elementary schools.

"They tend to be smaller schools. They tend to not have freezers. So that has been a big limiting factor for us," said Devon Sundberg, the district's dietetic coordinator for food services. "We're currently sending food home in boxes. So now we're preparing for how we're going to be able to feed students in the school."

As a result, Sundberg said, the district must plan for more shelf-stable items that can be stored longer, while making sure they meet federal and district requirements for whole grains, protein and other nutritional components. Another challenge, she said, is matching the supply of meals with the number of students in schools.

The district's aim, according to Sundberg, is to add items with a shorter shelf life – think salads and fresh fruits – to the in-school menu.

"Our hope is that as more students come back, we'll be able to increase our variety," she said. "We'll be able to increase what we're serving because the turnover will be higher."