Staff shortages across the supply chain have forced one nursery to turn to Amazon to buy food with the pressure on wholesalers and suppliers leaving customers facing delays to deliveries or a lack of products.
One nursery school in London, which this summer was told by its supplier it was unable to offer any deliveries "until further notice", said the situation had not improved.
"We are currently using Amazon for big items such as flour, cooking oil, pasta, rice, and buying the rest from Tesco online," said the site's managing director.
"It is all a huge problem, and we are also suffering from exactly the same staffing shortages that hospitality is."
Bidfood, one of the UK's largest wholesalers, which delivers to schools, said the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers was impacting its ability to offer "usual levels of service" from a number of depots, with teams working "around the clock" to make sure deliveries got out to customers.
ITV News reported last week that canteen supplier ISS had written to school staff and advised them to stock up on food as part of a contingency plan to ensure children were not without food this winter. In a statement, ISS said its ability to provide nutritious meals was not currently being impacted, but that it was taking steps to ensure a "good supply of meals" remained in place.
"That contingency planning includes regular communication with our stakeholders during these challenging times for many schools across the country," a spokesperson said.
The Federation of Wholesaler Distributors (FWD) said the school supply chain was "stressed, but it is coping". However, it warned that if labour shortages worsen then wholesalers may have to prioritise schools and other public services over hospitality customers. This could leave restaurants, pubs and hotels with a lack of supplies in the run-up to the busy Christmas period.
An FWD spokesperson said: "Wholesalers will maintain food supply to schools, hospitals, care homes and other critical customer groups, but if the labour shortage continues and deepens, that will come at the expense of hospitality customers who also need all the stock they can get as we approach the festive season."
"We need more people, from farms to kitchens, and training up UK residents for skilled roles like HGV driving will not help in the short term," the spokesperson added.
Rachel Dobson, managing director of buying specialist Lynx Purchasing, added: "Suppliers are prioritising schools and healthcare to the extent they can, but obviously the longer the disruption lasts, the harder it is to protect any caterer from being impacted by delays or shortages of specific products.
"Our advice is the same to all our customers; keep talking to suppliers, keep menus flexible, and be ready to make changes to recipes and ingredients where you can as availability changes."
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In