Frank Morris / NPR
American public school students are eating a lot at school this year.
School meals have in the past been free for low-income children and some entire districts, and are available for purchase for other children, sometimes at lower prices. The school districts are responsible for their own programs and then the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) pays primarily for subsidized meals. Food is free for all students this year due to epidemics, and the USDA is theoretically raising costs, but cuts are halting the program and costs are rising.
These include breakfast and lunch, and dinner in some districts.
But wage problems are making it harder to find a livelihood, which is causing the worst supply chain headaches for schools in decades. Sourcing is a nightmare. Some school meal staples, such as chicken, may be difficult to obtain, and your child’s lunch may be served on the lid of a plastic dance tray. According to nutritionists and district school officials, the NPR interviewed.
They say wages are the biggest problem. Food processing plants don’t always have enough workers to grind produce, trucking companies don’t have all the drivers they need to bring food from factories, and the companies that supply schools have their own warehouses. I can’t have a full staff.
School districts are high-income, low-margin consumers, and many of them are now scrambling to feed their students.
“It’s like a big hurricane,” said Greenon Sims, director of nutrition services at the Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City. “And it keeps coming at us.”
Sims distribution companies are choosing to serve more profitable customers instead of some school districts. Kohl Wholesale, a company that his district had used for years, began canceling truck loads earlier this school year, and cut ties with the district shortly thereafter. Other major distributors have done the same with districts across the country, leaving people like Sims to feed thousands of students, and there is no clear way to buy all the groceries they need.
Frank Morris / NPR
Putting every meal together is the end of the search for a kind of treasure.
“If you think about when the world closed in March 2020, and the months that followed, and the empty shelves were tested, what people saw is what we see now. There are, but it’s just obvious, “says Sims.
Now Sims and his crew are eating together. This is the end of a kind of treasure hunt. 5,600 students of the district; A chicken is being loaded from a volunteer’s van straight from a processing plant here, a box of donated pots, a new supplier is slowly taking part in the discount, but no certainty. And it’s happening across the country.
“We hear from schools across the country that they’re not just getting the food and supplies they ordered,” says Diane Pratt Heiner of the School Nutrition Association.
Pratt Heiner says some districts are shopping at Costco, Sam’s Club or Regional Restaurant Supply Depot for baby food. And she says they’re paying more. Not necessarily more for the same items, but more money to fill in the blanks they need to complete their menu. They can’t get the product they’re using. In Sims’ School District, for example, she says the price of the chicken she can get regularly has more than doubled.
Pratt Heiner noted that most districts do not have a complete cost estimate, as they are in a survival mode.
“The attempt to rearrange the alternatives is so fast and furious that they don’t even see the price, it’s more important than what they can get. They have a tray or sign in Items or fruits or vegetables are going to be ordered whatever it takes, “says Pratt Heiner.
United States The Department of Agriculture is helping to cover the additional costs.. USDA is paying the districts. About 15% higher than the normal rate for school meals. It has been announced that another 1.5 1.5 billion in aid is to come, but it is not clear how it will be distributed. The agency is also relaxing regulations.
But Pratt Heiner says she does not believe the extra money from the USDA is covering all the extra costs the school is taking.
Meanwhile, the USDA has not released a total of dollars for all of this cost, partly due to a delay in data collection.
“We absolutely want schools to offer the most nutritious food possible. And we believe that’s what they want, but we also believe that if the truck doesn’t show up and they No school should be fined for not having a cup of fruit to put in, says Cindy Long, administrator of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
There is no peace
Some districts may have fruit, but not cups or five-box trays on which to serve it. Lori Drenth, director of food and nutrition services for the Hernando County School District in Florida, says the five-box tray – recently – was the basis of every meal. The district typically passes about 5 million of them each year, but this year Drenth is running to find an alternative.
“I mean, seriously, I spend my days combing the Internet about what I can keep, what I can offer, oh, menu items to students,” says Drenth.
She is serving food to children on Nacho Bowl lids, pizza slice boxes, small deli mat trays and 9-inch styrofoam plates. She says she wants to go back to the reusable plastic trays that many people remember from the school cafeteria, but even if she has the trays she has extra people to clean them. Are not. Because in addition to the shortage of food and disposable serving products, Drenth, like many other school nutritionists, is dealing with a severe shortage of self-employment.
“It’s just an unending victory,” Drenth lamented. “Whether it’s, you know, paperwork or staff, or salary or food, it can be exhausting.”
And there is no peace. Drenth and others expect the non-stop chaos of assembling the on-flight menu to continue at least until the end of the school year.