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Food shortages impact menus at Brainerd Public Schools

The biggest shortages the Brainerd School District has seen are with yogurt and cheese.

Alyssa Thompson
Food Services Director Alyssa Thompson updated the Brainerd School Board Wednesday, Sept. 29, at a special school board meeting about the challenges her 45-member staff has been facing with the food shortages. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

A shortage of food and delays in delivery is impacting the 5,500 meals a day Brainerd Public Schools prepares for its students.

Food Services Director Alyssa Thompson updated the Brainerd School Board Wednesday, Sept. 29, at a special school board meeting about the challenges her 45 staffers face with the food shortages.

Shipments delivered by commodity trucks with produce and raw products have been delayed or orders changed. The district has seen delays with beef, turkey roasts, egg and peanut products and seen late shipments on items such as cheese, fruit and canned goods.

The district also experienced price increases on commodity goods and produce along with manufacturing shortages on dairy products, including yogurt, cheese, sour cream and lactose-free milk; on handheld items, including pizza, quesadilla, pancake on a stick and hot dogs; and protein.

Thompson said chicken and egg products, as well as breakfast items such as cereal bowl packs, oatmeal bars, waffles and pancakes, take three to seven weeks to be delivered.

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“I’m having to buy some things for $10, $20, $30 above what I have projected,” Thompson said. “Many changes will happen on a Friday (affecting) delivery the following week. There's no way of knowing that I'm not going to have yogurt or sour cream, or chicken nuggets, until that Friday. At some point, a supply chain issue will affect every single one of those grant programs.”

The district participates in seven grant programs including the School Breakfast Program, School Lunch Program, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, out of school meal time options for the at-risk programming, After School Snack, Summer Meal Programming and Special Milk & Kindergarten Milk programs. The school also accommodates any special dietary need as long as the student has a doctor’s note.

Thompson is in the process of securing a backup distributor to help with items being delayed.

“This will not necessarily solve the issues ... but maybe they will have a product my (current) distributor doesn’t have,” Thompson said, who added she’s also looking at buying products in bulk, though there’s a concern with expiration dates.

“I have never done this, because I like to keep our menu fluid and I like to try new things, but I’m doing a cycle menu,” Thompson said, a method that will help her forecast food into January. “We started this process and we’re going to reduce our lines and options, especially at our secondary schools. We are going to focus on our main line and our special dietary needs.”

The biggest shortages are of yogurt and cheese. Thompson said the alternatives when they don’t have these items are a meat alternative or a grain.

Thompson said staffers may also have to get creative. An example, she said, is if they can’t get burritos, they have to figure out what to serve in the amount of time they are allowed, as it takes more time and money to make food from scratch. Staff also may run to the grocery store at times to make sure students with special diets are taken care of, which also is time consuming.

Thompson said another challenge is a lack of storage for the food service department for extra items, as the warehouse is full.

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Thompson said if there are major menu changes they will notify families and nursing staff.

“So far this year we have managed to sub our product with very little interruption,” Thompson said.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONFOOD
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