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Cooking school lunches from scratch can fix labor and supply issues

Posted by Cora Preston on Thursday, May 5 2022

Jennifer Gaddis published an op-ed in the Washington Post on how investing in a model of cooking school lunches from scratch can fix labor and supply issues in the federal child nutrition program. An excerpt of the article is below, visit the original op-ed to read the full story. 

The access to free meals that tens of millions of schoolchildren have through the Agriculture Department’s child nutrition programs is under threat. When federal pandemic waivers expire June 30, the majority of the nation’s schools will no longer feed all students free of charge, and school districts will receive far less money from the federal government — about $2.91 per meal instead of $4.56 — for those they do feed.

These policy changes will send child nutrition programs — which have been indispensable during the pandemic — spinning into turmoil if schools continue to be hammered by labor shortagessupply chain challenges and inflation. Some schools have already stopped providing the breakfasts, after-school snacks and suppers that children from low-income households rely on. Others have turned to more heat-and-serve meals and shelf-stable items that require less on-site labor, since job vacancies have reached crisis levels.

The twin problems of labor and supply shortages aren’t easy to fix, but one solution — cooking meals from scratch — can go a long way toward addressing both. Scratch cooking gives schools more flexibility to buy from local farms instead of relying solely on distributors that may not be able to fill their orders, and it converts part-time jobs into full-time positions that can be more satisfying and better paid. What’s more, after initial investment in infrastructure, scratch cooking is cost-effective. A 2020 study of California public schools found that nutrition departments with high levels of scratch cooking spent the same total percentage of their budgets on food and labor — 87 percent — as those that did little to no scratch cooking.

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