Spring Menu Planning in 2022: Navigating the Challenges

For school districts across America, springtime is usually when nutrition departments plan their menus for the upcoming school year. In a normal year, it helps give suppliers and distributors plenty of time to prepare, get your deliveries in on time, and serve throughout the year with fewer surprises. But what do you get when you mix school meal waiver uncertainty, labor shortages, and supply chain challenges? Your latest brain game. 

The Numbers Tell All 

The School Nutrition Association recently released results on a survey to over 1,200 school districts across the country last November 2021. 

  • Almost 99% of responding districts were utilizing waivers to offer free meals this year via the Seamless Summer Option (SSO).
  • Over 80% of those districts reported that packaging and menu item availability was a significant challenge for them.
  • Over 75% also reported that menu item discontinuation was a significant challenge. 
  • Over 70% of school districts also struggled with staff shortages which was a significant challenge.
  • Around 68% said that suppliers not carrying sufficient menu items to meet nutritional standards was another significant challenge.

Nearly four months since the survey took place, there is still plenty of uncertainty in our midst. 

Rising to the Challenge

Despite the significant challenges faced, the show must go on. School districts are prepared to adjust, react, and proceed as new information comes to light. If you’re using a menu planning software in your district, take advantage of the unique features it offers to help you make last minute changes and substitutions without having to start from scratch. Creativity will also be a key tool in navigating these murky waters, such as swapping proteins and grains and making room for odd-couple food pairings. Last but not least, you made it this far, give yourself credit and be proud of what you’ve been able to achieve! 

Is 2022 a turning point?

It’s hard to believe we’re already on the heels of our two year anniversary since the pandemic first took its toll on this country. That’s two years worth of industries pivoting, adjusting, and restructuring the way things are done, including our supply chain. In an article published by Nasdaq, in 2022 we can expect to see at least an increase in worker staffing, primarily due to shifting attitudes to worker benefits and pay, as well as a stronger partnership with our federal government to help the food service industry find more stability. In addition, many experts predict that our lessons learned are driving technological innovations to streamline our processes and offset labor shortages.

The question now is, when will we see those effects trickle down into school nutrition? When will schools finally get some respite? We’ll have to wait and see.