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'We're continually scrambling': National supply chain issues impact school lunches for students in Oregon

Schools nationwide are adapting to delayed food deliveries and shortages.

GRESHAM, Oregon — As kids in Oregon return to school this fall, their hot lunches will look a little different than in years past. School nutrition services are facing a national supply chain issue. It’s impacting the food and even paper products used to prepare kids' meals.

“We're continually scrambling,” said Ben Guyton, director of nutrition services for the Gresham-Barlow School District. “We have to ask what do we have? Do we have enough of it? Does it count the right way for USDA meal pattern?"

Several factors are impacting the school lunch supply chain. A shortage in truck drivers means deliveries are often late or incomplete. Food processing plants are also short on workers. And since most schools were closed last year, many food suppliers have yet to ramp up production to pre-pandemic levels. 

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Despite those challenges, Guyton said nutrition services workers are doing everything they can to make sure kids get healthy meals, even if it means fewer choices and some improvisation.

“We may have to adjust from our planned soft taco to doing a burrito or enchilada instead or something completely different like a chicken burger,” said Guyton.

To help out, the Oregon Department of Education is granting districts temporary waivers for certain nutritional requirements. Guyton said all of the trouble is worth it come mealtime.

“Seeing their big smiles behind masks and getting their thumbs up when I walk around the lunch room.”

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