Supply chain slowdowns bring changes to Spokane school lunches

SPOKANE, Wash.– Supply chain issues strike again, and this time it’s changing what your student is eating at school.

Spokane Public Schools has been forced to make menu changes since the supply chain slowdown is making it hard to get certain foods. Some of those changes are coming last minute.

Cafeteria workers are struggling to get a wide variety of food, so they’re having to spend more money to fill in those gaps.

Director of Nutrition Services at Spokane Public Schools Doug Wordell explained that part of it is because different foods take different prep times.

“One item might take two hours of prep and one might take four hours to prep and if it shifts in a day, you have to get on your production and ready to go,” Wordell said.

When that happens, the district said it makes do with whatever it has left in the refrigerators.

Menu changing happens almost weekly.

From lactose-free milk to paper trays, Wordell said there are several items the school district is having a hard time getting. Items with grain are the hardest, but meat is right behind.

“One of the plants uses a whole muscle chicken filet that we like. It’s a really nice product,” he said. “They couldn’t staff that particular plant because of the staffing limits that they were facing.”

He said about 10-15 percent of their orders don’t even show up and 10-20 percent of local deliveries are hours late.

Wordell said it could take months for some items. For example, waffles will not be coming in until January. When that happens, he said they sometimes have to pivot and find something new.

If cafeteria workers can find the food they need, the cost of food goes up.

“If we can find it, like a grain substitute, we’re paying another 10-15 percent more on top of some of the inflationary costs,” Wordell said.

 

Wordell said they’re going to continue limiting new items and stick with the food they know they can get.

“We want students to come in and have a great meal and get off to having a great day of learning and engaging with their students and their teachers,” Wordell said.

The district has a $16 million budget for food. Between grants and other programs, it does get some of that money back.

Leanne Eko, the director of Child Nutrition Services with Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said in a statement,

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and OSPI have offered financial support to schools to help address increasing costs, including: an increase in meal reimbursement rates. grant funds, and covering shipping charges for USDA foods. Additionally, USDA announced resources designated for assistance to help schools respond to supply chain disruptions.

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