4 ways K-12 operators are tackling labor shortages

Faced with staffing shortages, K-12 nutrition directors have come up with creative ways to make sure that kids keep getting fed.
kids eating at school
K-12 operators have come up with creative ways to fill in staffing gaps. / Photo: Shutterstock

As K-12 nutrition teams continue to face labor challenges, operators have come up with ways to keep the meals coming even when short staffed. 

Here are four ways K-12 operators are working to combat labor shortages that were shared at the School Nutrition Association’s Legislative Action Conference held in Washington D.C. earlier this week. 

Match up employee hours for easy subs 

At Bellflower Unified School District in Bellflower, Calif., Nutrition Services Director Candice Crump uses her district’s central kitchen to her advantage. 

Crump decided to match up the hours of employees working in the central kitchen with the hours of employees working at the school sites to allow for easy substitutions should the need arise. 

“In the event that one of our sites calls out, we can just have our ladies from or central kitchen fill in at the sites,” she says. “I actually put together a little map where it shows who's working during which time.”

Have a back up plan for the back up plan 

The nutrition department at Jefferson County Public Schools located just outside Denver has approximately 450 employees when fully staffed, but it has experienced over 130 vacancies at times. 

Executive Director for Food and Nutrition Services Beth Wallace and her staff came up with a tiered alternate menu system to allow the team to keep on serving kids as smoothly as possible even if they are missing employees.

When working with full staff, students are given the choice of three entree options, but if a staffing issue arises, the menu is downsized to just one entree. In the event that there are no employees to help serve meals, the team switches over to prepackaged items and asks another faculty member at the school to hand them out to students. 

Keep it simple 

Bellflower Unified sees most of its employees call out on Mondays and Fridays. 

Instead of serving more complex entrees on those days, the nutrition team offers simple menu items like corn dogs that are easy to prepare and serve when short staffed. 

“Mondays and Fridays are really light days,” says Crump. “It’s something that they can just pop in the warmer and anyone can go [to a school site] and serve.”

Tap in to former employees 

At Plymouth-Canton Community Schools in Plymouth, Mich., Director of Nutrition Services Kristen Hennessey noticed that the secretaries at the district would reach out to their retired peers to see if they could fill in as subs when they were short staffed. Faced with staffing shortages herself, she decided to adopt the idea for the nutrition team. 

Hennessey now has a handful of former nutrition employees who have come back to fill in when necessary.

“It has been an amazing experience. The more majority of them were actually managers for me at one point, so when they walk in our whole office feels a sense of relief,” she says.  “It's worth every cent to know that the integrity of our menu and the service to our children are going to be sustained because they know what we expect.” 



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