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Burnet school district cafeteria staff get creative during pandemic

Bertram Elementary School cafeteria

The Bertram Elementary School cafeteria has plexiglass dividers so kids are separated during lunches. Cafeteria manager Felis Salgado and her staff prepare the lunches, individually box them, and set them out each day. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

You might not expect to find street tacos in a high school cafeteria, but it’s a favorite menu item for Burnet students.

“The kids love this one,” said cafeteria manager Joann Chapa.

But the General Tso’s chicken might beat it for top choice, she added.

Burnet Consolidated Independent School District students have many creative options for lunch, even as food service staff struggle with the issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cafeteria staff must box each meal individually so students don’t have to go through a traditional serving line. And at each BCISD campus, cafeteria tables have plexiglass dividers between students and seating is spaced out, which means more lunch periods.

BCISD Director of Food Services Pamela Holcomb pointed out the precautions are to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The kids’ safety is the important thing,” she said.

BERTRAM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Bertram Elementary School Cafeteria Manager Felis Salgado and her staff show up at work at 6 a.m., except on Tuesdays, when they get there at 5:30 a.m. to unload the delivery truck. There’s little time to sit once they arrive.

BCISD campuses also serve breakfast. Pre-pandemic, students went to the cafeteria for breakfast. Now, Salgado and her staff of two package each breakfast individually for delivery.

“We take the breakfast to the classrooms for pre-K through second grade,” she said. 

Third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders pick up breakfast after they’re dropped off at school.

“(The pandemic has) changed a lot of how we do things,” Holcomb said. “It’s been a lot more work for my staff, but they’ve been very gracious, accepted the challenge, and been great.”

Once breakfast duty is over, Salgado and staff turn their attention to lunch.

Students now only get one daily entree option in individually boxed meals.

“They each get green beans, even if they don’t want them,” said Salgado about that day’s side to go with the main course of chicken nuggets.

The first lunch period starts at 10:45 a.m., and cafeteria staff place the boxed meals at each plexiglass-divided table. Between lunch periods, they clean and sanitize tables.

“It used to be the custodians cleaned the tables between lunches, but they’re busy cleaning the classrooms, so the cafeteria staff handles the cleaning in between lunch periods,” Holcomb said. 

It’s more work but necessary for the health of the students.

“We’ve definitely changed how we do things, but it’s for their safety,” Salgado said.

The Bertram Elementary cafeteria team serves 260 to 280 meals a day. Pizza day is the most popular. They don’t skimp when it comes to food preparation. They love fixing good meals for students and staff, despite the extra work created by COVID-19.

And once lunch is over, Salgado and her staff get ready for the next day.

BACK AT BURNET HIGH SCHOOL

Street tacos at Burnet High School
Burnet High School students can enjoy a street taco during lunch. It’s one of many entrees cafeteria staff create throughout the week. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Chapa and her staff aren’t letting COVID-19 keep them from serving great food, including the street tacos.

Holcomb said the district follows state and federal meal planning guidelines, but they have some room for creativity.

And with new guidelines coming next year, Chapa is trying out a few things to see how students and staff like them. 

Perhaps a good byproduct of the pandemic is that the district extended its Summer Food Program throughout the year, which means all students receive free meals.

“The USDA has allowed us to do this, and it’s a big benefit for families dealing with this pandemic,” Holcomb said.

However, the pandemic is making it difficult to plan for next year. Though it’s only February, Holcomb and her staff are placing orders for commodities. 

“We don’t know what next year will be like,” Holcomb said. “We’re planning on it being somewhat back to normal, but we just don’t know.”

One thing that is certain is the BCISD food service staff will be cooking and serving wonderful meals.

CURBSIDE MEALS ONGOING

BCISD’s Food Service Department still offers curbside meals for pickup. The meals are available to all youths 18 or younger, whether or not they attend a district school. 

The meals, which include breakfast and lunch for an entire week, are distributed on Mondays from 9:30-10:30 a.m. and 4-4:30 p.m.

Meals are handed out at the BCISD Food Service Warehouse, 301 E. Third St. in Burnet.

The youth does not need to be present, but a parent or guardian must show one of the following types of identification for the child: student ID, attendance record, CarRider Pro hanging tag, or birth certificate. 

Contact the BCISD Food Service Department at 512-715-5150 for more information.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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