Meals prepared

A food service worker prepares meals for lunch at Lake Havasu High School.

Shortages are on the menu.

Lake Havasu Unified is among school districts across the country experiencing food delivery issues and labor shortages.

However, food services staff say they’ve been able to find ways to serve nutritious meals to students.

Since the summer, LHUSD has experienced food shortages and missing deliveries according to Anne Taffe, Taher’s food service management child nutrition supervisor for the school district. The shortages are a result of supply line problems as well as labor issues, Taffe said.

Taffe says the types and amount of foods and items missing varies from week to week, but there have been consistent issues with dough and bakery items, meats and proteins, some vegetables, condiments, as well as sundry food goods, paper products, PPE, and cleaning supplies.

“One example would be burger patties,” Taffe said about unexpected shortages. “In January each year, we plan for and divert a significant sum of USDA beef to make our annual supply of beef patties. We include monthly expected consumption for the next school year and divert the beef for use. This year there have been intermittent shortages of beef patties.”

On average, Taffe says the district prepares 3,300 to 3,500 meals a day. Currently anyone 18 and younger can receive a free meal, regardless if they are enrolled in the district, due to the USDA extending the Seamless Summer Option plan to June 2022.

Taffe says that Taher’s corporate structure allows local employees to have more flexibility to go “off script” when purchasing food than some other districts in the state.

“(Taher) is a national company and they go out to bid for different suppliers while the majority of the districts in the state of Arizona are self-operating…Shamrock is their sole distributor,” Taffe explained. “We can buy from Shamrock, but we can also buy from Sysco and U.S. Foods. So we have that ability to go to a lot of different places.”

Taffe says the district has been able to shift its orders to nonstandard items to make up for shortages.

“As we have our chef-director Christopher Gallaga on campus, he and his team can rapidly adjust menus to use available goods,” Taffe explained. “For example, we used a certain amount of prepackaged items last year because of unprecedented drive-by service. In planning for this year, Chef Gallaga and I assumed the district might need drive-by items and diverted some planned purchases to those items. When our regular burger patties were unavailable, we quickly switched our order to the prepackaged (bake-in-bag) sliders for the elementary students.”

Taffe says that both she and Gallaga are keeping close eyes on vendor supply lists and the USDA commodity list “locking in deliveries as soon as goods are available.”

However, Gallaga says that the worst thing about this shortage is not the lack of food but the lack of trays and other kitchenware that aren’t as easily replaced.

“If they don’t have beef patties I can switch to sliders, if they don’t have spicy chicken patties I can buy regular chicken patties and Frank’s Red Hot Sauce and make my own,” Gallaga said. “Packaging has really been a bear.”

On top of food and supply shortages, Taffe says there is also a shortage of employees for food service at LHUSD. According to Taffe, LHUSD food services is currently 25% short of its targeted staff level.

“The food service team has gone to extreme, even heroic lengths to cover all the necessary jobs and are well deserving of admiration and applause,” Taffe said. “In addition, management has developed creative solutions and new methods to improve efficiency and reduce workload.’

Taffe says these solutions include consolidating tasks to one location, reducing stations and using automation.

Despite the shortages Taffe says that the district is still committed to providing student nutritious meals.

“To date, we have continued to serve whole grain-rich breakfasts and lunches all with lean protein to the USDA requirement, as well as a minimum of 1 1/2 cups of fresh fruits and half a cup of vegetables from three daily choices and a cup of fresh, low-fat Arizona milk for breakfast and lunch.”

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