While some parents may be frustrated by last minute menu changes, Gretna Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services staff are asking for a bit of grace.
“It is not a Gretna problem,” said Sharon Schaefer, Food and Nutrition Services director for Gretna Public Schools. “The kitchen teams are working tirelessly to make the best meals with the ingredients that are available to us.”
Interruptions to available staff times — months ago or even a year ago — have slowed and even halted production of many products school nutrition programs rely on for school lunch.
“The majority of what many are sharing with us is that it’s COVID-related,” Schaefer said. “If you don’t have staff on the line or have to quarantine an entire team or shut down production, that’s going to affect the marketplace.”
This fall, many more schools returned back to in-person learning than last year, meaning the typical demand is way up from last August.
“They normally use previous years to predict the need,” Schaefer said. “Fall of 2020 is not a back to school season that you can do a prediction on.
“With so many more schools in in-person training, fewer products are being spread across more student meals across the nation.”
Last year, many were just grateful that GPS was offering in-person learning. People were appreciative to have anything on the menu, Schaefer said.
“None of us want to hear it’s a COVID problem or ripple effect. We just want to move forward so badly, but unfortunately, with the way it’s going, Food and Nutrition Services is doing the best they can with the resources available,” Schaefer said.
When FANS places an order, the truck that comes may or may not have the items requested, she said. “Then we have to do last-minute menu changes that could be at one or at all of the schools.”
For example, Tyson has halted production of Crispitos until at least January 2022.
Schaefer said when the announcement was made, she bought Crispitos — a school lunch favorite — from any distributor she was allowed to, collecting enough to offer Crispitos on the August menu with plans for Gretna High School to have them once more this year.
“If they don’t even begin to manufacture until January, I don’t know if they’ll be available for us at all for the rest of the (school) year,” Schaefer said.
Along with those changes, Schaefer said the September menu has been updated to include more local items from area growers and producers.
“That’s some relief for the short term, but we also have to balance cost with that,” she said. “Our food purchasing is done through federal compliance. It’s a lot more expensive to have four to five people bring you a couple things than one person bring you everything.
“We just keep on analyzing all of that to make sure we are serving the healthiest food possible to the students and that we are fiscally responsible while we do that.”
Menu changes will be shared on the Meals4Dragons Facebook page as they come up. Changes will also be reflected in Nutrislice app, where parents can find the school lunch menu.