supply chain issues Force Southern California school districts to reimagine their listings to make up for current and projected Popular nutrient deficiency.
hamburger; Chicken pies. It has become increasingly difficult to obtain these and other essential nutrients in recent times.
With labor shortages exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, food production and distribution industries have been hit, and bottlenecks at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are delaying the unloading of all kinds of merchandise.
As one San Bernardino County district says, because legacy vendors are burdened with demands from multiple school systems, demand for certain items is currently higher than supply.
And rest is still far away.
But there are mouths to be fed today, tomorrow and every day – for the rest of this school year.
Since the start of the 2021-22 academic calendar, Nutrition Services staff across Southern California have worked to ensure hundreds of thousands of students get the food they need, even if what was planned and what ends up changing from one minute to the next.
“We are working magic to make this happen,” said Riverside Unified School District spokeswoman Diana Mesa. But all schools do. There is a lot of preparation involved.”
Schools get creative with menus
Meza said the Riverside area serves about 32,000 meals a day, and while some shortages have made securing student favorites like hamburgers and chicken pies more difficult than ever, officials have been buying more local fruits and vegetables.
In recent months, district officials have had to shop for hamburger patties and chicken from different vendors – at a higher price than usual – to keep items on the menu.
If one seller ran out of something, it would be on the next seller.
“We’re coming up with ways to make that happen,” Mesa said.
District officials also have to expect a much longer wait for the products they can get.
“Requests were done on a weekly basis with a two-week lead time,” said Adith Asi, director of nutrition services for Riverside. “Now we order weekly, with an eight week lead time.”
As such, Riverside Unified officials find themselves ordering more than they expect to use so they can get supplies for the coming weeks.
Assi heard about his peers in other areas by shopping at Costco and other bulk grocers for items.
In all her years in school feeding, she had never seen a pinch like this.
“Now, everyone is getting creative,” said Mesa.
Favorite ‘almost impossible’ to make it
Even advanced planning at Rialto couldn’t prepare school district officials for the challenges created by supply chain issues, Diane Romo, principal business services agent for the Rialto Unified Schools District, wrote in an email.
“Our district is fortunate because our nutrition program cooks up many of the items offered to our students from scratch,” she added. But, “the failure to receive ingredients such as beef, cheese, spices and even the availability of fresh produce exacerbated the already complex daily production of school meals.”
As a result, Romo said, it has become nearly impossible to make favorites due to a lack of product.
Thus, the menus are changed several times a week.
“We used to have a lot of variety,” said Vivian Watts, executive director of food and nutrition services at Alhambra Unified School District, which serves more than 16,300 students.
In the past, Al Hamra High Schools had a bobo food bar with ramen, pho, Korean tacos, Mexican street tacos and other things.
Watts said such options are no longer available “because we’re not sure we can get supplies.”
This really annoys her.
“It’s really heartbreaking for us because we want to provide the best food for our children,” Watts said. “We can only put on the list what we know we can get.”
There is also a shortage of trays and utensils
Shortages and delays due to supply chain problems are not limited to foodstuffs.
Watts said Alhambra Unified recently received a grant to purchase barbecue equipment to make things like roast chicken patties, hamburger patties and hot links at its high schools.
“But we haven’t been able to get the equipment because of supply chain issues.”
Watts allowed getting items like trays, utensils, and napkins to take part in this challenge, which is why menu items are exclusively prepackaged for now.
Other regions face similar challenges.
“Many paper products are becoming completely unavailable, with no estimated delivery times,” Romo said.
During the COVID-19 shutdown, Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, has provided more than 140 million meals at no cost to students, families, and community members at districtwide Grab-and-Go food centers, a spokesperson for Shannon Haber wrote in the Post. electronic.
Now, with students back on campus, meals have been affected by packaging, supplies and a labor shortage.
Haber said Los Angeles Uniform officials have been able to purchase paper products in the meantime, but that prices have gone up.
Plus, with food processors struggling with a supply chain and lack of labor — affecting their production — L.A. Unified had to find alternatives to many regular products, such as applesauce, ready-made appetizers, and fresh vegetables.
Haber said prices for some products have gone up as much as 25%.
However, in this school year, meals were provided to students free of charge.
“This commitment to our students is unwavering,” Haber said.
Schools are looking for solutions
Watts has an idea.
What about elementary school students who bring their own empty utensils and utensils from home?
“I think that would be sustainable because kids in the past, if they brought any food from home, they had to bring containers and utensils anyway, right?” She said. “So now we’re just asking them to bring the tare and we’ll provide the food.”
As a child, Watts said the program was likely to motivate students by providing school supplies.
Creativity is the name of the game in these unprecedented times.
“The innovative mind of the Nutrition Services staff has been challenged to use their creativity and deliver the best possible meals to our students,” Romo said.
She added that the district “continues to receive positive feedback from our students and educational partners.”
Authors Robert Morales and Lyn Tatt contributed to this report.