Time To Pack A Lunch?

School Struggles To Get Enough Food

Grace Winkler


      Students likely noticed the food in the lunchroom has been different this school year. Certain meals are being repeated, as well, some favorites from the past have not been served.

     “I feel like they have the same exact thing almost every day, and it gets boring after a while,” freshman Morgan Garrett said.

     The meal issues were no fault of the cafeteria staff. The North Kansas City School District was impacted by a nationwide labor shortage. They have been struggling to get food delivered after food delivery contracts were broken.

     The district emailed parents and suggested they send their child with a packed lunch.   

     “If your child has food allergies, this may be wise given the number of menu substitutions we will be forced to make,” an email from the school district said.

There’s not enough workers at warehouses to make orders and deliver food.

— Jenna Knuth, Food and Nutrition Director for NKC Schools

     Jenna Knuth, Food and Nutrition Director for NKC Schools, and Lisa Ruedisueli, Food and Nutrition Manager at Staley, said food services have been directly affected.

     “Historically, NKC Schools’ biggest vendors were Sysco, U.S. Foods and Kohl Wholesale,” Knuth said.

     Sysco dropped the district contract the week before school started. 

     “There’s not enough workers at warehouses to make orders and deliver food,” Knuth said.

     Knuth said that schools have a low budget, while other vendors such as restaurants and businesses have a higher budget and are likely to pay more. Vendors were more likely to supply higher profit margins.

     In the meantime, the district was relying on smaller vendors such as Graves and F&A, as well as purchasing from local manufacturers to supply food.

     “We are also working to find other distributors,” Knuth said.

     According to Ruedisueli, the school cafeteria has faced staffing issues due to a labor shortage. Currently, the kitchen is staffed with seven dedicated Staley staff members, and on most days they have two substitutes from other schools for a total of nine staff members. They are short three food service positions and have an assistant manager position open, according to Ruedisueli.

     “We’re feeding about 1,280 kids every day in five lunch lines, so we have staff that come in early and people that pick up extra hours,” Ruedisueli said.

     The cafeteria also had people who don’t work at Staley who come in to help out.

     “We want to make sure that all kids are fed with no interruptions,” Ruedisueli said.

       Sophomore Kaylee Miller said there was not too much change in her opinion.

     “I think it’s definitely more quality food than last year,” Miller said. “This year there are way more options, and I feel like it’s more open.”

     In previous years students who did not qualify for free and reduced lunch had to pay full price for lunch, but this year is different. The USDA granted schools the ability to provide free lunch for the 2021-22 school year.

     “It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said. 

     Garrett said she gets pizza daily, and sometimes buys extra.

     “I feel like we get less food,” said Garrett.

     But Miller said she doesn’t mind meals repeating.

     “I have more options, so if I do get sick of it, then I can pick pizza or chicken sandwich or something,” Miller said.

      Ruedisueli said the cafeteria workers tried to encourage students to take all that came with each meal.

     “The green beans, the banana, the cup of fruit, that all comes with the meal, and it makes the meal,” Ruedisueli said.

     Both Knuth and Ruedisueli asked for patience and flexibility as the district tried to fix the food situation.

     “We are thankful whenever we get a thank you, and we get a lot of them, so we appreciate it that the kids appreciate what we are doing,” Ruedisueli said. 

Cassie Ford