Why your child’s school lunch menu is getting changed last-minute

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GREENFIELD, Ind. — Several central Indiana schools are being forced to make last-minute menu changes as some of their popular school lunch options are not showing up on delivery day.

“Today’s menu is actually varied from the menu that we publish for our parents,” said Amanda Stout, Director of Food Services for Greenfield Central Community Schools.

“We were supposed to have chicken parmesan on our menu, but chicken patty and chicken breasts are not available so today we’re serving cheeseburgers and corndogs,” said Stout.

CBS4 has heard from more than a half a dozen schools — all of which are experiencing similar shortages and supply chain issues, brought on by manufacturing disruptions during the pandemic.

“I have been a food service director for almost 10 years, and I have never seen any disruption like this,” said Stout. “We started to experience them in the school year last year, but the supply chain has just decreased a lot more drastically this school year with the increased number of students that are in-person learning.”

The district’s registered dietician, Katie Peters, said the biggest challenge has been creating a predictable menu for both staff and students.

“We want our kids to know when they walk into the cafeteria what to expect,” said Peters. “We don’t want them to walk in and be expecting cheeseburgers and corndogs and not have any of those things on the menu.”

Officials with Greenfield-Central schools said roughly 25-30% of their ordered product never comes in. Nearly all chicken products, fresh fruits and vegetables like lettuce, and plastic sports drinks have been hardest to find.

“We have constant communication with our vendors and manufacturers updating us on the status of their products, especially the ones we use a lot of,” said Stout. “And they have told us that winter is their goal to get production back up to what we expect it to be.”

“Everyone down the [food] chain is being hit. Not just our schools and certainly not just our county. It’s pretty widespread,” said Peters.

In an email last month, a spokesperson for Washington Township Schools said:

Washington Township is experiencing the many challenges everyone else is facing as we all work towards recovery from the unique environment driven by Covid-19.  Our food and supply vendors are also experiencing labor shortages, production and shipping delays.  Due to the significant and accelerated surge in demand in a short period of time most of our vendors anticipate what they call “inventory tightness”.  

Shortages with items such as condiments, bread/buns, chicken, peanut butter, cereal, etc. have forced our Child Nutrition program to scramble in securing food and supplies for alternative menu options for students, while also meeting federal regulatory mandates.  This along with our staff shortages has created an enormous hurdle as we pursue the mission of nourishing our Washington Township students for success. 

Our team is working diligently on the hiring process. An aggressive promotional push has also been made via social media and other announcements.

Ellen Rogers
Community Relations Coordinator, Washington Township Schools

The Brownsburg Community School Corporation has also had to alter some school menus due to staff shortages. A spokesperson said those changes are reflected on the school’s daily menus online.

A spokesperson with Perry Township Schools said turnover is always high in the Child Nutrition department. Right now, there are at least six openings for school lunch staff.

“We have experienced a few inconveniences due to food shortages,” said Keesha Hughes, a spokesperson with Perry Township Schools. “But when that’s happened, I believe our staff has made minor substitutions of menu items. I don’t think we’ve had to do anything drastic to compensate. Every student is offered a meal.”

At Greenfield-Central Schools, Stout said she is currently looking to hire roughly six new staff for lunch services. For more information and where to apply, click here.

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