EDUCATION + SCHOOLS

Educators call for more help in school cafeterias to help ease supply-chain problems

Nov 2, 2021, 5:08 PM | Updated: 5:18 pm
school lunches...
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — School cafeteria workers are having a hard time keeping up with the problems caused by the nationwide supply-chain crisis.  Some school districts are making last minute changes to menus in their school cafeterias to ensure children get lunches.

Educators understand how hard it’s getting to bring food to their cafeterias.  The Granite School District makes its school lunches and supply orders roughly 16 weeks in advance, and despite all that extra time, it still has trouble securing what it needs.

School cafeterias changes their menus

District spokesman Ben Horsley said, “Every once in a while, you’ll just have an issue pop up where the order is not received when it’s supposed to.”

That forces them to make complete menu changes with just a couple days notice.

The food isn’t the only thing that’s hard to secure.  Horsley said they’re seeing a big problem getting plates, utensils and clamshells to serve the food in.  They’re still serving the children, but they have to use different and more expensive delivery options.

“We’ve shifted to baskets with disposable liners in many locations, simply by virtue of the fact that we need something that’s reusable as opposed to something that’s disposable,” Horsley said.

Labor shortage making the problem worse

Sadly, some of the lunch items that are popular among students are the ones schools can’t find.  For instance, officials say there’s a shortage of orange chicken across the country. 

Utah State Board of Education Child Nutrition Program Director Kathleen Britton said school districts normally have wholesale deals with meat processing plants, but staffing problems are slowing down meat production, which limits what cafeteria workers can serve.

“Instead of having, maybe, three choices, they only have one or two choices,” Britton said.

Plus, the labor shortage also is creating issues at schools.  Britton said some entrees, like spaghetti in meat sauce, require more cooks than other meals.  If there aren’t enough cooks, workers have to make easier meals like chicken nuggets and hamburgers, which are already in high demand.

Britton said, “If you don’t have that many staff members, if you only have two people in a kitchen that is serving 300-400 lunches, it’s very difficult to serve that kind of option.”

She’s calling on people to volunteer or apply to work at school cafeterias across Utah.  Britton said that could go a long way in making sure kids have enough to eat.  People can also help by contacting the School Nutrition Association, the Institute of Child Nutrition or No Kid Hungry.

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Educators call for more help in school cafeterias to help ease supply-chain problems