School meals could change amid supply chain woes

LIMA high school students may not see some of their favorite lunches as school districts change their menus at the last minute and buy alternative products as supply chain problems persist that could persist through the new school year.

The scarcity affects everything from portioned paper cups and ketchup packets to popular pizza and chicken products that schools buy in bulk.

Schools are quickly adapting to an insecure supply chain that could take months to recover. And the situation is compounded by the plans to restart schools, which means schools will feed more children than they did at this time last year.

In the last week alone, Lima schools were shorted out over an order for hot dogs, ketchup packets and styrofoam trays, said Carrie Woodruff, food service director for Lima schools.

“You have to buy things in bulk and then you try to use the plastic to store those things and they are not available either,” said Woodruff.

Woodruff stocked up on trays and basic supplies last spring in anticipation of supply chain issues. But she already sees a lack of popular items like french fries, spicy chicken, and prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

If the scarcity persists, expect students to have an ever-changing canteen: instead of serving packets of ketchup, schools may offer paper cups that students can fill with condiments.

Trays can be replaced with individually wrapped sandwiches or packed lunches.

Lunch can consist of three different types of chicken in one day: popcorn, nuggets or tender. Or schools serve filled crust pizza and thin crust pizza the same day to ensure everyone gets full when schools can’t buy enough of a single product, said Sara Newland, food services director for Elida Schools.

There are other dilemmas as well, such as what to serve children with food allergies when specific foods are not available, or how to meet federal nutritional standards when there is already a shortage of products that schools would normally offer.

“It is a challenge to follow these special diets,” said Newland. “So if we don’t have the same products, it changes their ingredients for our gluten-free diet or the same product we always served for our students who count carbohydrates for their diabetes.”

The interruption is also time consuming: there is additional paperwork for dieting waiver; Employees could spend hours cleaning trays when disposable trays are out of stock; and replacement purchases can be a hassle when the alternatives are also sold out or limited in availability.

Still, parents shouldn’t see price increases unless their child purchases an item a la carte, Newland said, as the USDA expanded its free meal program for all students regardless of their ability to pay.

Back to school students may not see some of their favorite lunches as school districts change their menus at the last minute and buy alternative products while supply chain issues arise that could persist through the new school year.

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