May 24 2012

Lunch Line Bottom Line: School Meal Costs on the Rise

Vicki E. Alger

In response to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools districts are raising school lunch prices.

Students in Florida’s St. John’s County, for example, will see less meat, smaller portions, and higher prices next year. The St. Augustine Record reports:

Now St. Johns County secondary students pay $2.50 for lunch while elementary students pay $2.10. Reduced price meals are 40 cents for lunch. Breakfast is $1.25. …Under one option, the elementary price would increase to $2.25 and secondary school prices would stay the same. A second option is to increase both school groups by a dime. Under that scenario elementary students would pay $2.20 and secondary students would pay $2.60. This school year elementary lunch prices went up 10 cents in order to meet federal requirements. …Among changes are new vegetable subgroups, cuts in fats, less dried fruit, no substituting juice for milk and counting fruits and vegetables as separate food components. Until students get used to those changes, food service officials expect to see more food dumped in the garbage.

Some school boards and food services associates worry that older high school students and athletes won’t fare well under the changes.

“I don’t think their goal is to produce athletes,” food services assistant director Sean Prevatt said, predicting the less meat guidelines will “be a shock to (high school) boys.” District 3 [board] member Bill Mignon pointed out the popularity of food courts in high schools where students can get food such as hamburgers and fill up. Prevatt warned him the days of food courts were probably numbered based on the nutrition push.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.”

It’s bad enough that thanks to federal food politics, a dabble of pizza sauce counts as a vegetable serving. Worse, taxpayers are effectively paying twice for less food for their children at school. First, they’re paying $3.2 billion for new federal food guidelines. Then schoolchildren’s parents are being nickeled and dimed in the lunch line.

Let’s get the feds out of taxpayers’ kitchens and wallets. Instead give low-income families meal vouchers so they can plan, buy, and pack school meals they believe are healthy. Allow non-poor families to take tax credits for what they spend out of pocket for healthy breakfasts and lunches for their children.

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