Education Beat Podcast — Teaching during a Covid surge — Listen Now!

News Update

Supply shortages complicate challenges of school lunch programs

Widespread supply chain shortages have hit school lunch programs, too, causing school staffs to order in bulk further in advance, substitute ingredients, order more fruit and vegetables and scramble to find hamburgers and other student favorites.

Plus, higher prices for paper products and food are putting pressure on lunch budgets.

High schools in Alhambra Unified had to cut back on their food bar offerings of ramen, pho, Korean tacos, Mexican street tacos and other items. Vivien Watts, the 16,000-student district’s executive director of food and nutrition services, said she’s not confident she can consistently find the ingredients.

“It’s really heartbreaking for us because we want to provide the best food for our kids,” Watts told the San Bernardino Sun. “We can only put on the menu what we know we can get.”

The newspaper attributed the shortages to labor shortages at food distribution centers caused by the pandemic and bottlenecks in delivering cargo at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. These problems add to school districts’ challenge of providing free breakfast and lunch to all students, under a universal meals program that Congress has funded for the second year. Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised it will become permanent, with state funding, starting next year.

“We’re working magic to make it happen,” Riverside Unified School District spokeswoman Diana Meza said. “But all schools are doing that. There’s a lot more preparation involved.”