From the Kitchen to the Congress: A Child Nutrition Reauthorization Blog

School Lunch Prices Increasing Nationally

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It’s that time of year again.  While districts are preparing for the end of classes, school boards across the country are looking ahead to next year.  At the top of many agendas – school meal prices.  Food labor and other costs continue to rise, putting increased financial pressures on the school nutrition programs.  The recession is also adding to this strain, as many more families qualify for free or reduced price meals.  With growing costs and limited federal reimbursements, school nutrition programs are increasingly going into the red. 

To keep the school nutrition programs financially solvent, many districts are considering price increases for paid meals. Here is a sampling of meal increases under consideration:

  • In Jackson County, Ala., the price of a paid lunch is going up 50 cents to $2.00.
  • School lunches in St. Charles Parish, La., will cost elementary and middle students 10 cents more, while high school students will pay 15 cents more.
  • Students in Chesapeake, Va. might pay an additional 10 cents per meal, bringing the cost of an elementary school lunch to $1.90 and middle and high school lunches to $2.00.
  • The Mansfield School District in Texas is considering raising lunch prices 25 cents.  This would be the school district’s first price increase in six years.

According to SNA’s September 2008 study, Heat’s On: School Meals Under Financial Pressure, the average price of a paid elementary school lunch was $1.86.  This figure is expected to increase for the upcoming school year.  School nutrition programs are doing their best to keep the cost of meals affordable for students, while keeping their programs financially sound. 

Unfortunately, $1.86 is a far cry from $2.92, the average cost to prepare a school meal.  The federal reimbursement rate must be raised to help keep the price of a school meal reasonable.  School districts that have a low percentage of free and reduced price eligible students struggle the most.  This is why SNA is asking Congress to increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches by 35 cents across all eligibility categories.  Increasing the federal reimbursement rate is one of SNA’s key priorities for Reauthorization 2009.

Is your school district increasing the price of a lunch?  If not, what are you doing to keep your program out of a deficit?  Join the conversation by posting a comment below.