Avian flu has school lunch options flying coop

As if planning a school lunch that met federal guidelines and that kids would actually eat weren’t hard enough.

Now, fewer turkey sandwiches, chicken nuggets and scrambled eggs will be on school menus due to the nationwide avian flu outbreak.

Area school districts’ food service directors have been told by their food vendors to expect less of some types of meat and eggs to be available to turn into healthy lunches for kids.

Clark-Pleasant students regularly eat turkey and cheese sandwiches and turkey and noodles. Employees often opt for a salad with sliced turkey in the food line, food services director Kim Combs said. But menu planners have a plan: More meatless meals and adding beans on top of salads instead of turkey are two examples.

Combs was notified by Jennie-O Turkey that she should expect to receive about 50 percent of her regular school orders for turkey products, she said.

“They said, ‘You may be able to get half of what we requested, and you may not even get that,’” Combs said.

Farms in 16 states have reported finding at least one of four strains of avian flu in their poultry since December, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a result, farms have had to throw away eggs, euthanize infected flocks, quarantine the birds and test animals on a regular basis.

Although Combs could swap some meals with beef, the price-per-pound has been higher in the past three years, so it isn’t financially feasible to change every turkey-based meal to beef, Combs said.

Other school districts are concerned about how many eggs and chicken products they’ll be able to purchase.

Indian Creek food services director Carol Schaaf usually serves eggs for breakfast and during “breakfast for lunch” days.

But if the egg supply will be lower than normal, she will have to add more sausage or come up with a different meal altogether to serve, she said. She also will have to swap out turkey-based meals so they don’t show up on the menu as often as they do now. Students typically are served turkey at least once a week.

Franklin students will have few options to eat chicken when school begins again, food services director Jill Overton said. Instead of manufacturers such as Tyson making 10 different chicken patties, nuggets or tenders, the school may be restricted to purchasing just a few options this year, Overton said.

Schools will know what food can be ordered for breakfasts and lunches by Aug. 1, directors said. Vendors will notify schools if they have a lower supply of food than normal or if they have fewer options to order from.

Schaaf said she can substitute turkey and cheese sandwiches for ham and cheese sandwiches and keep children satisfied in the cafeteria.

“We’ll be more creative, but we’ve got lots of options,” Schaaf said. “They’re still getting their protein, just in a different source.”