How school dining services are adapting for the 2021 academic year

As schools welcome students back to campus, foodservice staff again face uncertainty due to the pandemic. Although new variants of COVID-19 continue to pose severe challenges, kitchen staff have last year’s experiences to help them figure out ways to keep students safe while providing delicious meals.

Here are a few options dining staff can take to keep students healthy and full this coming school year.  

Increase the number of dining locations

At Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, dining services found a simple, effective solution for feeding students in a way that avoids overcrowding. To start with, they increased the number of dining locations on campus. In one instance, these expanded locations included a giant tent pitched on an athletic field. Other options included outdoor commons areas, courtyards, and parking lots.

These open-air locations provide practical options for when the weather is good. But when the days get cooler, schools can turn to large indoor areas, such as basketball courts, fieldhouses, or even student commons in dorms and other student centers.

And if that isn’t quite enough to reduce crowding, dining services can take a page out of Cornell University’s playbook. Rather than closing dining halls, Cornell prevented overcrowding by having students make reservations at the university dining center using the booking app OpenTable.

Offer dorm & classroom delivery options

Throughout the country, dining services are delivering meals directly to classrooms or even individual dorm rooms. Although dorm and classroom delivery requires more work from dining services, it significantly reduces overcrowding in dining halls.

So, how are dining services able to make this system work? Sophisticated food labeling systems like the DateCodeGenie® help make dorm and classroom delivery possible. Beyond standard food labels that contain ingredients, allergens, and nutritional facts, the DateCodeGenie can create and print labels with the names and ID numbers of individual students—a feature that can help kitchen staff deliver the correct orders to the right students.

Provide meal pickup programs

For schools that lack the resources to effectively operate a dorm delivery system, meal pickup programs offer another option to keep contact low.

At the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, dining services gave students the option to pick up a scratch-made meal each day. The college even provided a set of bamboo cutlery for students to reuse throughout the year.

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, offered students a similar option. All students had to do was order ahead through a texting program before picking up their boxed meal from one of the many pickup areas scattered throughout campus.

Similar to Vanderbilt, Cornell University also decided to adopt a meal pickup program. Instead of sending meals out in single-use containers, dining services at Cornell issued reusable to-go containers that students could return after finishing their meals.

Double down on grab-and-go

The more meal options students have to choose from with grab-and-go, the less likely they’ll need to dine elsewhere on campus. Grab-and-go provides easy access to popular foods that travel well. That’s especially true for busy, on-the-go students trying to catch a bite between classes, homework, intramurals, and late-night study sessions. Plus, grab-and-go greatly reduces contact between students and dining staff.

Invest in an automated labeling solution

No matter what schools decide to do this year, they’ll need an efficient labeling system that provides necessary health information while helping meals get to the right students and classrooms. That’s where the DateCodeGenie automated labeling system can provide a solution.

By providing access to the USDA nutritional database, the DateCodeGenie allows kitchen staff and administrators to look up and apply crucial information to food label designs. In less than a minute, foodservice staff can select a label design—complete with nutritional charts, student names, ingredients lists, allergens, prices, and QR codes—and print out as many labels as they need.

When the menu changes daily and demand for labels is high, kitchen staff can’t wait for custom food labels to arrive in the mail. They need an immediate solution. Again, that’s the DateCodeGenie.

Provide an extra layer of safety with SecureIt® tamper-evident labels

As they deliver meals to students, dining staff also need a way to ensure the safety of unattended delivery orders. By providing a protective seal over the top of delivery orders that breaks when meddled with, SecureIt® tamper-evident labels help ensure students that their food is safe and ready to enjoy.

And if dining staff need a way to keep track of orders while providing an extra layer of security for dorm delivery or pickup orders, they can use SecureIt labels for the DateCodeGenie. Like other DateCodeGenie labels, SecureIt labels can include nutritional information, ingredients, order numbers, student ID numbers, student names, QR codes, allergen warnings, and other crucial information.

For more information on SecureIt labels and how they help protect delivery orders, head over to our SecureIt page.

And for other everyday solutions to help schools deliver safe, delicious meals this year, head over to our education resource page or contact your designated foodservice distributor.