5 Creative Ways to Increase Pandemic Meal Participation

Investing in Innovation is Investing in Results

Posted on March 11, 2021

The pandemic has been hard on teachers, parents and students alike, and that further impacts the performance of school nutrition programs. At Whitsons, we have seen how difficult it has been for schools to adjust, particularly when it comes to sustaining meal participation.

However, we have also seen an incredible amount of resolve and creativity stemming from the needs of each community, which has inspired Whitsons’ teams to develop unique ways to make meals both accessible and meaningful. In an effort to continue reaching as many families in need of a healthy meal as possible, we want to pass these success stories on to you and your community.

We have compiled a few cost-effective and creative ways to increase pandemic meal participation at your school. We’ve tried all of them and found them to encourage engagement while improving meal access!

1. Give Out the Goodies

Everyone can use a little bit more fun in their lives, especially now. So why not give out some “goodies” and make grab-and-go lunches fun? We’ve added interesting extras, like monthly themed treats, encouraging notes and reusable cinch sacks for students to make them and their families look forward to picking up their meals. With marketing and promotions still a line item in most program budgets, these simple additions won’t break the bank. This may sound like a small thing, but it makes a difference!


2. Make Dinner an Experience

Meal kits have been an unqualified success for Whitsons! Our team members have been sending home bundled ingredients, such as Caesar salad kits and “make your own pizza” kits. More than just a meal, these kits help to make dinner an experience and bring families together—without costing districts any extra to implement.


3. Home Delivery Eases Burdens

Many guardians and parents find it difficult to pick-up meals at school due to busy work schedules, needing to provide childcare and other such complications. Home delivery is one of the best ways to increase pandemic meal participation and is definitely worth the investment. Busy parents appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.


4. Happy Helpers

Sometimes, a smile, a laugh or a nice (socially distanced) face-to-face interaction with parents and students at a pick-up line is all it takes to make their day. We’ve also had good responses to fun and unique posters featuring our Nutrition Safari® characters at the schools—and even a few surprise visits from the characters themselves! In a time when personal interaction is limited, do whatever you can think of to reach out to keep workers and volunteers happy and safe, and pass this onto parents and students! 


5. Constant Communications

It’s important to keep the community in the loop however you can. Through social media posts, billboards, community newsletters, email announcements, text messages, phone calls and more—the more parents you reach, the better your turnout will be. Reach out to your local organizations to see who would be willing to help spread the word. It’s just that simple.


How else can you get the word out and establish clear channels regarding pick-up scheduling, what meals are available and other such details? All it takes is a little creativity and insight into what your community needs, and more often than not, the solution costs little to nothing for the return of higher participation.


Follow These Tips to Improve Satisfaction & Pandemic Meal Participation

Schools face unique challenges when it comes to providing students with meals while they’re out of session.

Use these tips to ensure more meals make it to children and families who need them, morale is improved and your meal program is managed more effectively, and keep participation levels up during this challenging time.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions, feel free to contact Whitsons. We are here to help communities thrive by getting the help they need for a more effective school meal program.