Remember the good old days when all your kid had to worry about in the cafeteria was who to sit with and whether to bring or buy? Now that schools are returning for full-time, in-person instruction this fall, many parents are wondering how school districts will handle lunch. While Gov. Murphy has mandated masks for students, teacher and administrators in K-12 schools, we know kids can’t feasibly eat with their masks on. So what will schools be doing to mitigate the risk of COVID during lunchtime?


In a lengthy document titled “The Road Forward,” the New Jersey Department of Education and the New Jersey Department of Health detail safety guidelines for schools, including what to do during meals.

“For meals offered in cafeterias or other group dining areas, where masks may not be worn, schools should consider implementing other layered prevention strategies to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

These strategies include:

  • Maximize physical distance as much as possible when moving through the food service line and while eating (especially indoors).
  • Consider alternatives to group dining areas such as eating in classrooms or outdoors.
  • Stagger eating times to allow for greater physical distancing.

In addition, it’s suggested that schools maintain student cohorts and limit mixing between groups whenever possible. Schools are advised to avoid offering self-serve food options. And if your child was thinking of swapping his sandwich with his friend, that’s a no-go, too. Students are discouraged from sharing meals.

The document also advises routine cleaning between lunch groups and that frequently touched surfaces be cleaned.

“Surfaces that come in contact with food should be washed, rinsed, and sanitized before and after meals,” says the advice. The guidance goes on to say that given the data regarding COVID-19 transmission, the use of single-use items, such as disposable utensils, is not necessary during meals.

In Princeton, social distancing will be used during lunch. “PPS schools are adjusting lunch schedules and utilizing some outdoor seating options to allow for social distancing during lunch periods,” reads a welcome back health protocols document directed at parents.

In SOMA (South Orange Maplewood School District) parents have started a petition asking for a district-wide plan to serve lunch and snacks outdoors.

The Hoboken Board of Education said that shields will be used in lunchrooms to promote physical distancing.

Meanwhile, the state Office of Emergency Management will be supplying masks to school districts, including 6 million KN95 and surgical masks and 500,000 child-sized masks so that schools can comply with the mask mandate. How is your district handling lunch in school? Tell us in the comments below.

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