Schools across Indiana and the country are scrambling to provide hot meals for students, and with increased demand for breakfast and lunch since students have returned to in-person school, food services in some schools are being pushed to the limit.
Chicken, yogurt, and whole grains are some of the items schools are struggling to find as large food suppliers continue lagging behind because of positions that continue to go unfilled.
Indiana School Nutrition Association President Leeanne Koeneman is the food services director at Northwest Allen County Schools. She said her school corporation is also struggling to find disposable supplies to serve meals.
"As soon as we get done I've got a car here I'm running to Sam's Club just to get forks and spoons – it won't matter what we put on the plate if we don't have a plate to put it on," she said.
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Koeneman said those disposables have become essential during the pandemic, especially when meals are packaged for students to grab and go, or to reduce high-touch areas.
"You know if we've got COVID restrictions that we're cupping things up so there's less touching, that becomes an issue," she said.
Koeneman said it's also hard to find people to help prepare meals, as some schools are forced to make more food from scratch. She said the school corporation has ordered different types of food items to ensure students receive a hot meal, which means employees have to take more time and care to safely prepare things like raw meat.
Not all schools are dealing with the same issues, or to the same extent.
Bill Riley is the spokesperson for Vigo County School Corporation, and he said the district has so far been able to prevent supply chain issues from affecting students or disrupting food service.
But the school is spending more money on purchasing food from smaller vendors, as major suppliers struggle to keep up with demand from other schools, grocery stores, and restaurants.
"We're noticing that the big suppliers that supply the folks that we contract with for our food, they're offering fewer choices," he said.
Schools across the country have been able to provide free meals to all students through the National School Lunch Program during the pandemic. Riley said the school is reimbursed from the federal government when students eat school meals, which will help cover some of the additional costs – even if shortages continue.