Supply Chain Problems Could Affect Your Kid's School Lunch

by Kristina Johnson
Tom Merton/Getty

Schools are hitting up stores like Sam’s Club to keep kids fed amid supply chain shortages

Supply chain shortages are being blamed for just about everything right now — higher prices, longer shipping times, empty shelves at stores. The issues are becoming so bad, they’re now also apparently making it tougher for schools to put together lunches for kids. And with an estimated 30 million school children across the country dependent on those meals — administrators are scrambling to come up with solutions.

The New York Times reports school cafeterias are being hit hard by a shortage of some staple items like chicken, bread, apple juice and plastic utensils. There are a lot of things factoring into those shortages, but like so many things in life right now, you can trace the root of the problem back to the pandemic. It’s hard for companies to find workers right now, so there aren’t as many people to man the food manufacturing facilities or truck drivers to deliver it.

The nutritional director at one Missouri school district told the Times that despite literally “begging” for help, three different suppliers couldn’t meet the needs of the district’s 21,500 students. That forced to send employees out to wholesalers in search of bulk items hot dogs, frozen pizza, and tater tots — forget about fresh fruits and veggies. “We’re bringing in whatever food we can,” Jenna Knuth said. And while kids may delight in that fare, schools are having trouble meeting nutritional guidelines on things like fat and sodium levels.

The situation has forced the Department of Agriculture to issue waivers to schools so they can work around the guidelines while still getting food in kids’ bellies. “We know that districts are doing everything they can to put healthy, nutritious food on the plate for kids,” one official said. “We want to support that effort and reassure them that no one is going to get in trouble because of an unexpected difficulty.”

Other schools around the country have gone so far as to discourage kids from accepting school lunches in order to conserve their resources.

“If sending your student(s) to school with meals from home is not a burden for your family, we would encourage this option as a short-term request,” a note sent home to parents in another Missouri district read.

The school year is still relatively new, but some administrators don’t see the problems going away any time soon.

“We’re not really expecting to let our guard down until late winter or early spring,” a St. Paul, Minnesota school official said. Until then, schools across the U.S. will be doing their best to come up with swaps — like regular bread instead of buns for burgers, or finger foods instead of anything that requires utensils. They may not be the healthiest or the most appetizing — but at least they’ll keep kids from going hungry.