Cafeteria offers new options post-Covid


The lunch line serves chicken wings to students (photo by Nate Shull)

Nate Shull, Copy Editor

As hundreds of students flood into the HHS lunch line this new school year, they might notice a few changes. While a variety of factors contributed to these changes, such as legislation and new levels of efficiency, the main question for students is likely “Why aren’t all lunches free anymore?” The answer to this pressing question lies within a series of waivers offered by the USDA that were recently lifted. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, the USDA offered a series of waivers that allowed schools to waive the rules that we normally follow,” said Homewood City Schools Child Nutrition Program (CNP) Director Rachel Fowler. “The waiver that had the most impact on us allowed all school districts to administer the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) all year round, which offered children 18 and younger meals at no charge,” Fowler said. “Homewood normally doesn’t qualify to offer this program at all.”

While many waivers’ expiration dates were repeatedly pushed back during the 21’-22 school year, as relief for the Covid-19 pandemic, most expired on June 30, 2022. Now, Homewood City Schools no longer qualify for the SFSP. 

Some of the newest physical differences in the lunchroom are new divisions of the lunch line. Not only do these sections offer a salad and fruit bar, but they also include a Fast Line that serves chicken tenders and sandwiches as well as a daily specials line and a breakfast and grab-and-go area.

“The goal of this change is getting kids to come and get a healthy lunch,” CNP Krista Stewart said. We just want kids to have something that they want to eat every day.”

A change that students may have noticed is the return of self-serve lunches, a welcome result of lifted Covid protocols. The lunch room staff have learned a lot over these past two years due to Covid. “The Pandemic taught us how brave and resilient our lunch room staff is,” Fowler said. The Homewood Child Nutrition staff not only served Homewood residents during the pandemic, but also fed families in the Birmingham and Jefferson County districts. The CNP staff also had to adjust to the new way of serving meals, boxing up every meal to-go. 

Though most Covid-related safety restrictions were lifted, some are still in effect, such as the limits on exchanging money at the cash register during lunchtime. Instituted to reduce the spread of germs and for people to avoid getting sick, the change, the lunchroom staff found, made the checkout line move much faster and more efficiently and decided to keep it in place. 

The lunch line is now a more open space and moves much more efficiently.  Much of it is due to the slowing down of the pandemic. The lunchroom staff has learned a lot over these last couple of years, being pushed out of their comfort zones time and time again to accommodate the pandemic. Nevertheless, the entire staff is still fully dedicated to making the school lunches as good and nutritious as possible for the students.