Supply Chain Issues Force School Districts To Switch Gears On Meals

Supply Chain Issues Force School Districts To Switch Gears On Meals

Supply chain issues and spiking inflation have spurred school districts to come up with inventive solutions for school meals.

Districts are fighting to keep their school meal programs going as they battle rising costs and product shortages, and some have had to switch gears to keep meals programs going.

Some districts have purchased refrigerated trailers or teamed up with other districts to lease warehouse space for storing bulk food items, according to a recent report from the School Nutrition Association.

The report’s results stem from 17 “listening sessions” with anonymous school district directors, as well as food distributors and manufacturers, and state agency staff.

Some schools have also started freezing more menu items and buying more versatile ingredients that can be used for more than one meal, the report said.

While in many cases the supply chain issues have led to more food storage, some districts have also moved away from hard-to-get processed items toward more fresh ingredients. Some districts said they started ordering more food from local producers, such as vegetables and fruit and even proteins like beef, chicken, and fish, and some schools have started scratch cooking more to be less reliant on processed items affected by the shortages. However, this move has side effects as it impacts the amount of food available to the local community.

In some cases, schools came up with fun new recipes to handle supply issues. Some proved wildly successful with students, such as “Mac and Cheese with Baked Cheetos” and “Hamburger with Funyuns.”

However, some participants in the report said they were concerned about how children with allergies would handle substitute products. Participants also said they needed to line up a school food distributor by mid-summer or they worried about not getting one.

“Ongoing disruptions throughout the supply chain coupled with the rising costs of record inflation, persistent labor shortages, insufficient regulatory relief, the war in Ukraine and the exhaustion of a protracted crisis management operational state have created epic challenges never faced in the 76-year history of the National School Lunch Program,” the report stated.

The group’s earlier report in fall 2021 found that over 99% of the more than 1,200 school districts surveyed called menu item shortages a challenge, with 86% saying the shortages were a “significant” challenge.

Supply chain issues have plagued a slate of different industries across the country over the last year. Food items, automobile parts, baby formula, semiconductors (an essential component of many electronic devices), and many other products have been affected by the shortages.

Earlier this year, about 70% of food retailers said supply chain disruptions are negatively impacting their business, up from 42% last year, according to a recent survey from the Food Industry Association.

Meanwhile, inflation has ballooned 8.3% in the last 12 months, beating the expected spike of 8.1%, the August Consumer Price Index showed Tuesday. In response, the stock market plummeted, with the Dow dropping nearly 1,300 points.

American families are feeling the pinch at the grocery store, where groceries are up 13.5% since last year, the biggest spike since 1979. The average household is spending about $460 more per month for the same goods and services compared with this time last year, according to Moody’s Analytics.