Food shortages, supply chain delays put strain on school menus

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At the St. Paul Public Schools district services center, staff members are tasting and learning to make some of the new student food options this school year.

In St. Paul, many meals offer chicken as a source of protein, but chicken is in short supply right now, along with many other menu necessities.

"We’re talking about staple ingredients: flour, wheat, soy, beans, corn," Nutrition Services Director Stacy Koppen said.

"There are more shortages than there are guarantees," she added.

Koppen said food orders normally placed four weeks in advance are going out eight or 12 weeks early with the hope of securing volume, but there are no guarantees.

Normally the district orders and uses 300 cases of egg patties a month for breakfasts, but yesterday, Koppen says, they only got 38 cases in their delivery.

"Yesterday we had six trucks scheduled for delivery here and only one showed up, so we are working to reschedule things like that," she added.

This district is not alone. Koppen says every district is dealing with shortages and delays on some level.

"Essentially what we have here is a perfect storm," she said. "We have a shortage of raw gradients, we have a shortage of people in the workforce, at the same time everyone needs more of everything."

St. Paul is working ahead, looking for alternate menu options, and while they will try to substitute a protein for a protein or a grain for a grain, Koppen says that may not always work.

"We may actually have to do a substitute like a grilled cheese sandwich for a poultry item or maybe, for example, substituting a yogurt for when we had eggs on the menu, so those are things that we are looking at," Koppen said.

She’s asking for patience from families in all districts this school year.

"Parents really need to be aware that this is something that is really going to affect us in our schools, and it’s more important than ever to communicate with your school so your child’s need are on the radar and so that we can provide support as well as we possibly can," she said.