Food-supply issues shaking up South-Western City School District menus

·2 min read
Angela Clutter, who works in food services for the South-Western City School District, brings out pizzas to the cafeteria line for students during a lunch period Jan. 19 at Grove City High School.
Angela Clutter, who works in food services for the South-Western City School District, brings out pizzas to the cafeteria line for students during a lunch period Jan. 19 at Grove City High School.

Supply-chain shortages are continuing to disrupt menus in South-Western City School District cafeterias.

And that disruption is expected to continue through this school year and into the next, said Lisa Hamrick, South-Western's supervisor of food services.

"We're the same as every other district across the nation and kitchens," she said. "The pandemic and food-supply issues have meant we've had to frequently change our lunch menu plan.

"We were hoping with signs the pandemic was easing up at the end of last school year that manufacturers would get caught up, but that hasn't been the case."

Instead, manufacturers are continuing to have staffing and production issues, and various items are in short supply at various times, Hamrick said.

Machell McCain, who works in food services for the South-Western City School District, checks the internal temperature of a pizza prepared for students during a lunch period Jan. 19 at Grove City High School.
Machell McCain, who works in food services for the South-Western City School District, checks the internal temperature of a pizza prepared for students during a lunch period Jan. 19 at Grove City High School.

Some of the items in which supplies have been most disrupted include cereal and other breakfast foods, corn dogs, cheese, chicken nuggets, trays and paper products, she said.

Planning for the following school year's lunch menus typically begins in January and February, Hamrick said.

South-Western plans its lunch menus on a four-week rotation, she said.

"It makes it easier to order things, and it's more cost-efficient," Hamrick said.

Menu rotations are planned for schools at the elementary, intermediate/middle school and high school levels, she said.

Rows of fruit cups and other snacks for student lunches are shown in the kitchen at Grove City High School on Jan. 19.
Rows of fruit cups and other snacks for student lunches are shown in the kitchen at Grove City High School on Jan. 19.

\If a change in menu is required, the district tries to substitute a similar item and one that will meet any nutritional guidelines for students, Hamrick said.

"For example, we've had a shortage of rotini, so we substituted mac 'n' cheese instead," she said. "You want to find something that students are going to want to eat."

Despite the food-supply issues, South-Western is committed to meeting all the nutritional guidelines for school meals while satisfying students' tastes, Hamrick said.

"We rely a lot on the input from our wonderful food-service staff," she said. "They let us know the feedback they're getting from students."

(From left) Machell McCain, Kim Thompson and Lyn Duemmel, who all work in food services for the South-Western City School District, prepare pizzas for students during a lunch period Jan. 19 at Grove City High School.
(From left) Machell McCain, Kim Thompson and Lyn Duemmel, who all work in food services for the South-Western City School District, prepare pizzas for students during a lunch period Jan. 19 at Grove City High School.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended waivers and eligibility guidelines allowing schools to offer school meals free of charge to all students through the current school year, Hamrick said.

"Every student can receive one free breakfast and one free lunch each day regardless of their financial situation," she said. "I would say we are seeing an increase in the number of students who get their meals from us probably because of the free meal option."

South-Western serves on average 13,600 lunches and 7,000 breakfasts a day throughout all school buildings, according to Evan Debo, the district's executive director of communications.

"For lunch, we are serving 65% (of the) total student population, and for breakfast, we are serving 33% of (all our students)," he said.

Gordon Food Service serves as the district's main food supplier, Hamrick said.

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This article originally appeared on ThisWeek: Food-supply issues shaking up South-Western City School District menus