Schools frustrated over milk, meal shortages blamed on supply chain

Consumers cannot help but notice the surprisingly bare shelves lately at many Twin Cities grocery stores. The same problem, a shortage of products and food, evidently plagues a growing number of schools, according to Southwest Media.

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District is preparing to ration milk at school lunch amid growing shortages in the paper carton supply chain. 

Lisa Rider, the district’s executive director of business services, said the district’s plan will impact secondary schools before the elementary schools. 

In a presentation to the school board on Thursday, Rider said milk will be rationed by discontinuing milk service at one or all of the daily meals. 

Moreover, there’s not much else to choose from in beverages at the state’s twelfth largest school district with some 10,000 students.

Minnesota students impacted by milk rationing may find few alternatives during school lunch. According to Rider, popular milk substitutes — such as bottled water and juice —are also limited and cafeterias are even struggling to find cups. 

“Cups are also severely depleted in the supply chain so we will be encouraging students to bring water bottles from home,” Rider said on Thursday. 

The shortages come at a time when schools are expected to provide meals to more students than ever. The federal government has required schools to give free meals to all students due to disruptions from the pandemic through this academic year.

Items in demand include considerably more than milk and other beverages. South Washington County Schools recently informed KSTP-TV that many ingredients and food choices remain in short supply, complicating their efforts to meet expected nutritional standards.

“It’s not a milk problem, it’s a container problem. It was kind of another gut punch,” said Wendy Peterson, director of nutrition services at South Washington County Schools.

She says they’ve been told the shortage is indefinite, and it’s just the latest in a long list of shortages and substitutions school districts have had to deal with all year long.

“The most popular items kids love, they are not manufacturing them: orange chicken, pizza, string cheese, juice. It affects every aspect of what we do,” she said.

The issues raised by Minnesota schools corroborate the findings of a nationwide survey released in December by the School Nutrition Association.

The survey revealed a wide variety of pandemic supply chain issues impacting school meal programs from every geographic region and district size. The top three challenges, cited by over 98% of respondents, are:

–Menu items not available in sufficient quantities/shortages.

–Supplies/packaging not available in sufficient quantities.

–Menu items discontinued by a manufacturer.

–Over three quarters of respondents indicated these three issues are “significant challenges.”

“Supply chain disruptions are making it infinitely more difficult to plan and serve nutritious meals, critical to student health and success,” said School Nutrition Association President Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS.

In the meantime, there’s only one thing for certain whether in a school cafeteria or grocery store — uncertainty when it comes to the availability of some products and staples.