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COVID disruptions alter school menus

Supply shortages reduce variety
Posted at 7:23 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 22:23:51-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — COVID’s affected so much of life. Now it’s putting a crimp in what schools serve for lunch.

Many school districts, including TUSD have been helping students with free breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout the pandemic. Right now the district is serving about 30 thousand meals a day--approaching the 35 thousand meals served pre-pandemic.

But the virus has disrupted food supply chains and scrambled school menus.

TUSD Food Service director Lindsay Aguilar says her students are not getting shorted on food but food suppliers aren’t able to deliver the variety of food school districts usually serve---and just like a restaurant, schools want to change up their menus to keep diners interested.

“Menu fatigue is something that we're definitely dealing with, with our student customers and it's frustrating to me, because I've certainly wanted to, you know, continue to add new items. That's something we're always looking to just bring it like you said, excitement, so menu fatigue is a real issue for us right now we're we're serving a lot of the same items that we have served for the last year and a half.”

Aguilar says supplies are still good for the old reliables like pizza and chicken nuggets, but school districts like to set menus several weeks ahead and uncertainty about food deliveries can lead to menu changes with barely a week’s notice.

School districts buy food by the truckload and buy food government approved for school lunch programs so their supply chain can be different from the one that stocks your neighborhood grocery but shortages can hit both markets at the same time.

“There's a shortage of chicken. It's affecting the retail market as well as school because the actual product that's, that's, you know, of the concern is the chicken itself, so it does crossover in a lot of ways.”

So for now, flexibility is the key ingredient for any school recipe as districts adapt to keep kids fed.