Supply chain problems and good shortages continue to plague multiple industries all over the country, including food supply and services. School meals have not been immune to issues. Here, we highlight how some school districts are creatively addressing the issue.
As the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic uncertain continue to impact supply chains and goods, school districts around the country are finding themselves challenged to provide school meals.
In fact, 97% of 1,368 recently surveyed school meal program directors said they were worried about pandemic supply chain disruptions and their ability to provide nutritious meals to students.
The problems facing school meal programs
A July report from the School Nutrition Association, School Nutrition Foundation and Share Our Strength’s No Hungry Kid campaign highlights some of those challenges:
The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to disrupt operational processes in the K-12 school nutrition segment, exacerbating longstanding procurement problems and creating a cascade of new challenges for school nutrition program operators, administrators and vendor partners. While the chaos of extended school closures may be behind us, no one in the industry expects a return to smooth sailing in the foreseeable future. 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.
That same report found multiple, compounding factors stressing school meal programs around the country:
Unfortunately, the report predicts that these challenges will continue to persist during the upcoming 2022-2023 school year:
Locals can are at the forefront of creatively addressing these challenges
Education news and policy website K-12 Drive recently reported on how school districts across the country are addressing these challenges. Conduit Street readers may find inspiration from their solutions:
- Some school districts are purchasing their own warehouses: “Distributors have begun to require bigger minimum orders from schools, which has caused some districts to pivot and purchase their own warehouses for storage, the report said. Collaborating to share a lease on these spaces helps districts to split the cost.”
- Some districts are bypassing supply chains and purchasing directly from local producers, also giving local farmers a boost: “Another solution districts discovered is bypassing supply chain problems by increasing purchases from local producers and trying to do more scratch cooking to rely less on processed items that may be hard to get.”
Also of notable help is increased federal funding for school meals and expanded pandemic waivers for free and reduced meals:
The $3 billion Keep Kids Fed Act increases the federal reimbursement rates for school lunch by 40 cents and breakfast programs by 15 cents. It also continues no-cost pandemic-era waivers that help with supply chain challenges, such as relaxed nutritional standards.