Heats On: Report Analyzes Gap in School Lunch Funding

Source: School Nutrition Association, September 2008

From the press release:
The average cost to prepare a school lunch has increased 10% since the 2007-2008 school year, according to a report published today by the School Nutrition Association (SNA). Results from “Heats On: School Meals Under Financial Pressure” show the average cost rose from $2.63 to $2.90 for schools to prepare a nutritionally balanced school lunch that meets federal nutrition standards. Over the same timeframe, schools received only a 4.3% increase in the federal reimbursement for each free lunch provided to low income students. This funding gap could cost America’s school nutrition programs a potential loss of at least $4.5 million per school day, based on 30 million school lunches provided daily.

To prevent a compromise of nutritional integrity, school districts have responded by raising lunch prices to an average of $2.08 up from $1.96 in the 2007-2008 school year. According to the report, 73% of school districts are increasing prices for students. Even with the increases, the cost of a school lunch remains lower than the average cost to prepare a lunch at home (according to meal cost comparisons by Dr. Alice Jo Rainville of Eastern Michigan University).

School nutrition programs strive to offer affordable, healthy meals to students who buy a school lunch each day and are also working to control labor, food and supply costs to keep student meal prices reasonable. But double-digit increases in food costs combined with increases in labor rates, benefit costs, transportation and fuel charges and high prices of nutritious items such as whole grains create a situation where the cost to prepare a meal exceeds both the amount charged for the meal and the federal reimbursement issued for free and reduced meals. SNA’s report indicated that 88% of school nutrition programs found the National School Lunch Program reimbursement insufficient in covering the cost of producing a meal during the 2007-2008 school year. Given the rising costs for the upcoming school year, this figure is expected to increase in the coming months.
See also:
Impact of Rising Food Costs
Paring Food Costs: Comparing Apples to Apples

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