WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — At the Bates Central Kitchen, the food distribution center for the Granite School District, over 44,000 meals for breakfast and lunch are prepared every day and sent out to schools.
It’s a facility that has been up and running for over 10 years, and until now, it's never struggled to meet demands.
“As much as we are trying to order supplies as far out as we possibly can to plan a menu,” district spokesman Ben Horsley said, “sometimes those deliveries are showing up days late — sometimes just not showing up at all.”
From trucking to supply to labor shortages, the district has experienced many hurdles, and it's been a challenge to try and guess how to serve meals.
This isn’t just a problem at Granite, however. Every single school in the state is seeing the exact same things.
“So it's kind of like a perfect storm,” said Kathleen Britton, the child nutrition program director for the Utah State Board Of Education. “We ask that parents be more flexible and understand when they go in and the menu said one thing and they are serving another, the truck may not have delivered that.”
Britton explained the main problem is with meats like chicken and beef.
The United States Department of Agriculture is allocating food to schools and sending them to a company, like Tyson, to process.
Shortages in staffing and ability to process that meat at those plants are increasing wait times, and schools are then bearing the brunt of the delays.
"The school districts are doing an incredible job at providing a balanced meal to these students,” Britton said. "It just may not be what they want or what they’ve gotten in the past.”
It isn’t just about supply, though — demand has also gone up.
Programs for schools across Utah offer breakfast and lunch for free to students because of the pandemic, massively increasing demand on districts like Granite.
“You would think that last year with the start of that funding and that program, we would have seen a lot more,” Horsley said. “But obviously, less kids were attending in person, and lunches still being free, that demand is higher than ever.”
Labor shortages are also affecting schools directly, which further complicates things.
“The workload hasn’t changed, and there are less people doing it,” Horsley said. "Unlike a restaurant that can ... just raise their prices to pay their employees more to attract more employees. We have to wait to the next budget year to get additional funding.”
Despite these challenges, every school is still meeting demands, but the options might be fewer and menus might change at the last minute, depending on where and when districts can get enough food to feed all the hungry students in Utah schools.