Have milk? Or pizza? Or Crispitos? North Dakota schools grapple with dining room supply chain disruptions – Grand Forks Herald

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GRAND FORKS – Disruptions to the national supply chain are forcing schools across the region to alter menus, create contingency plans and make do with available resources.

And for some students, that means their favorite foods — including popular dishes like Crispitos and pizza — aren’t on the menu as much this school year.

It’s a persistent problem, says Wendy Mankie, director of child nutrition at Grand Forks Public Schools, but the problem has worsened in recent months.

“More recently, in November and December, we started to feel the effects more,” she said.

On Jan. 6, Grand Forks Public Schools posted a message on Facebook notifying families of supply chain-induced menu changes.

The message read: “We are working hard to plan our menus, but due to national supply chain issues, we are having difficulty getting all the food we have ordered delivered to us. Although this challenge is not under our control, our team is doing our best to create backup plans.”

Mankie said that with meal substitutions becoming more common, she felt families should be aware of supply chain issues.

“I haven’t received any complaints from parents or children, really, but I just thought it needed to be communicated,” Mankie said.

Other schools in the region face similar problems.

Some nutrition directors and area cooks report that some of the most popular items among students are the hardest to get.

“A lot of breakfast pizza and stuff like that is really hard to come by right now,” said Kim Johnson, executive chef at Northwood Public Schools. “Even regular pizza for lunch is really hard to get.”

Fargo Public Schools and Grand Forks Public Schools both contracted with Sysco for food deliveries and had issues with chicken products and pizza. The Grafton District contracts with US Foods and Cash-Wa, and has had trouble with cereal and Crispitos, a Tyson rolled taco that’s especially popular with college students.

“It’s probably their favorite meal in high school and we haven’t been able to get them all year from any of our vendors,” said Sandy Sackett, director of food services at Grafton Public Schools.

Northwood students also miss Crispitos, Johnson says.

The United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, has specific nutritional requirements for foods served in schools. For example, half of the grains served should be high in whole grains, and fruits and vegetables should be served with every meal. The USDA has also set sodium reduction goals in schools.

Because of these requirements, nutrition directors rely on items designed for use in schools. Cindy Hogenson, director of Fargo Public Schools Nutrition Services, gave examples of whole-grain crust pizza or low-sodium chicken nuggets.

A kindergarten student pulls a carton of milk out of the cooler during lunch Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, at Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Fargo.

Michael Vosburg / The Forum

“Manufacturers entering the school year did not have the staff and resources to increase their normal production of school foods, so these manufacturers reduced their variety and simply concentrated the resources they had on a few items. to make,” Hogenson said. .

Entire school food lines have not been or are becoming available all year. Hogenson said chicken is hard to come by, and she just learned that Fargo’s public school beef supplier will be shutting down production. She says when chicken is available, it gets more and more expensive.

“Prices have really exploded since the start of the year,” Hogenson said.

Food distribution companies play a role in some shortages. Manvel Public Schools contracts with US Foods. Superintendent Dave Wheeler said the district had problems at the start of the school year, but things have improved in recent months.

“It’s better for us than it’s probably been all year,” he said.

Milk is one of the newest and most local breakfast staples to be impacted by supply chain issues in the region. Many districts in the region source their milk from Fargo’s Cass-Clay Creamery or a dairy that distributes Cass-Clay products. In December, Cass-Clay informed customers that there may be a shortage of milk in half-pint containers, which are used by K-12 schools. The problem was not with the milk, but rather with the container.

“They told us that there were only three manufacturers of this form of paperboard across the country, and I’m sure due to supply and labor shortages, they took some time. delay in production,” Hogenson said.

“Many districts, including us, have had to make contingency plans in case we start getting bulk milk,” Hogenson said.

Mankie reported that Grand Forks Public Schools had received the same notice from Cass-Clay and planned to pour servings of milk to students if the half-pint packages did not arrive.

“It would have been a bit more work, but they could still accept milk if they wanted,” Mankie said.

Hogenson says Fargo Schools received all of the half-pint cartons they ordered and learned from Cass-Clay that carton makers should be able to track orders in the future.

“But, of course, we’re still monitoring the situation and making sure we’re ready to adapt if we need to,” Hogenson said.

Manville Public Schools serves Cass-Clay milk from a Devils Lake dairy, and Wheeler says his district still has problems. Usually, the district orders three varieties of milk – skim, 2% and chocolate – and children can choose whichever type they want.

“Right now we’re probably getting one of those three options. He gives us all the chocolate once or all 2% at once, just to try to fill the order,” Wheeler said.

With many supply chain issues rooted in labor shortages at the manufacturing level, school administrators can do little to address food issues in their districts. But when the lunch bell rings, the students need to be fed.

Most of the pressure falls on the dining room employees and planners. When typical items are out of stock, they need to find alternatives to ordering. If a truck comes with no entrees, it’s the job of the cooks and nutrition directors to figure out what to replace on the menu.

Mankie, who is trained as a dietitian, is doing her best to continue to serve students within federal nutrition guidelines. She said the USDA has been more flexible with nutritional requirements among supply chain challenges.

When a food manufacturer or distributor cannot supply a product that meets the nutritional requirements, schools can request a waiver from the USDA for that product. The added flexibility takes some pressure off nutrition directors so they can focus on the job at hand – feeding students.

“My goal, and the goal of all of my staff, is to keep feeding them, as healthy as possible,” Mankie said.

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