Foodservice supply issues expected to continue

by Denise Gawlik

To buy lunch or not to buy lunch, that is the question. This seemingly simple question was a difficult one to answer during this past school year – particularly if you were a parent of a picky eater or a student with food allergies or other health issues. Lunch offerings changed abruptly and without notice. Options listed on the weekly lunch calendar were frequently not available when a student went to purchase them at lunch. Such occurrences left both parents and students frustrated to say the least.

Many parents rely on the daily lunch menu to make informed decisions regarding what their child will eat that day at school. When your child has a food allergy or other health issues such as diabetes these decisions can be critical.

According to Brecksville-Broadview Heights City School District’s new Food Service Supervisor Amy Voigt, school districts started to experience the sudden unavailability of food items last fall. Unfortunately, she said, school districts have not been immune to the global pandemic induced supply chain issues that have wreaked havoc on all areas of life. 

Voigt also expects these supply chain issues along with rising prices to continue into the 2022-2023 school year. She explained that, typically, school districts like BBH create their monthly lunch menus during the summer. Parents can access these menus online and decide which days their child will buy lunch. Once school is in session, orders are placed with suppliers on a Friday and food is delivered the following Wednesday.

Last fall, Voight said, suppliers and vendors started informing districts on that intervening Monday that certain food items were simply unavailable. This did not allow much time for the district to both obtain necessary substitutions and to inform parents of the change in the daily lunch menu.

Despite the anticipated ongoing supply issues, Voigt does not expect the same impact these issues had on the daily lunch menus as last year. She explained that vendors and suppliers have adapted to the sudden unavailability of food and are better at communicating this unavailability to the school districts in a timelier fashion and are also able to offer suitable substitutions.

As a result, the district will be able to adjust its daily menus earlier allowing them to also provide adequate notice to parents regarding when changes ae made to the food options available on a certain day.

Helping matters even more, she said, this past spring, the district launched a new digital platform known as “My School Menus,” which allows the district to edit and update its daily lunch menu in real time. Thus, when the district is forced to make last-minute changes to a day’s menu, the online menu can be updated immediately.

In turn, parents will have that information before sending their child to school. This notice will provide parents the ability to make an informed decision regarding whether their child should buy lunch that day.

Prior to accepting her position with BBH schools, Voigt served as Food Service Director for Massillon City Schools. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Kent State University.

Voigt said her goals for next school year include “getting to know her new staff, increasing student participation in the lunch program, and utilizing more local vendors and local produce in the food program.” She also plans to continue to adjust the school menus in response to student and parent feedback. ∞