A new study highlights the continuing impact of supply chain issues and labor shortages on school meal programs. 

The report, “Staying Afloat in a Perfect Storm,” said school nutrition programs have been hit hard by supply chain issues, and continue to battle high food costs. 

“The supply chain crisis, labor shortages and high costs are a long-term reality for school meal programs,” School Nutrition Association President Lori Adkins said Tuesday. “Despite these obstacles, school nutrition professionals have demonstrated a remarkable capacity to pivot and innovate to ensure students continue to receive healthy school meals. Congress and USDA must continue to ensure the sustainability of these programs, which provide a critical nutrition and hunger safety net for America’s students.”  

The study confirmed results of an SNA survey from November that said 98% of schools surveyed struggled to receive products they needed for their programs and 97% were hurt by rising food costs. It predicts ongoing supply chain delays in 2023 and a decline in distributors willing to do business with school meal programs. 

The study also found that programs were plagued by labor shortages, which caused them to reduce labor-intensive preparations and cut the number of food items made from scratch. The SNA report predicted labor issues will grow in the coming months as nutrition teams have more free/reduced-price meal applications to review.  

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“No single entity — not USDA or even Congress — can resolve these complex issues,” the report said. “And no single set of actions or strategies will be appropriate for all school districts or industry partners. Rather, a collaborative and committed approach to problem-solving can help to mitigate some of the pain points affecting all stakeholders in the school nutrition segment.” 

The SNA suggested school nutrition programs think creatively for solutions to supply chain issues, and recommended they increase the role of local producers in their programs. 

The report compiles information from sessions hosted in May 2022 by the School Nutrition Association and School Nutrition Foundation and supported by Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign. The sessions included representation from state agency officials, K-12 industry representatives and 274 operators for school meal programs.

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