K-12 Education
4:53 pm
Wed March 9, 2011

Lettuce shortage hits school lunches in Western Washington

Kids have a good excuse for not eating salads right now. They've been taken off the school menu in Kent because lettuce is in short supply. Schools in Seattle, Redmond and elsewhere in Western Washington are also scaling back on serving romaine, iceberg and other leaf lettuces.

Lettuce is always hot commodities when it comes to school lunch. A lot of schools serve it everyday. Here's a sampling of the various dishes it's in, just in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD), which includes Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish:

  • Mexican dishes, including taco salads
  • Caesar wraps
  • deli sandwiches 
  • a la cart salads
  • the self-serve "offering bar"

George Hulet, food services director for LWSD, says demand for lettuce is outstripping supply this winter. Not because kids are finally getting the message to eat healthier. Schools just don’t have as much of the stuff:

“We’ve recently been shorted on shredded lettuce or not had enough of a supply delivered as we requested."

The shortage is widespread. It's mostly due to freezing weather and heavy rains that have pummeled California, where Washington gets a lot of its lettuce in the winter. It’s driven prices up two to three times higher than the same time last year, according to USDA data. Several food service directors say it’s the biggest spike they’ve seen this year for any produce they serve. 

Lunch crews have had to get creative. Some are swapping in spinach or other produce so kids can’t completely get away with not eating their vegetables. And they say they’ll bring lettuce offerings back to normal as soon as they can, they hope within a few weeks.