|By Denise Jewell Gee, The Buffalo News, N.Y.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Amid federal rules that require more fruits, vegetables and whole grain breads, there's another mandate: increase the price of school lunches to match what the government pays.
That directive -- along with pricier foods, increasing labor costs and declining sales -- is pushing prices up across the region to as much as
Students in more than half of the school districts in
And some school districts will start the new year trying to figure out how to stop losing money on lunches.
"You can't just keep raising the price," said
Frontier Central found out the hard way what happens when you increase prices too quickly. Last year, the cost of lunch for elementary and high school students went up
The same thing happened across the nation as school lunch prices increased. A
School lunches are still a bargain. Even as prices have gone up and meals have gotten healthier, local schools charge less for student lunches than what they cost to prepare. There are few places you can get a healthy kids meal with an entree, fruits and vegetables, and milk for under
"A school lunch is still a good value for the meal that's provided," said
But it's not as cheap as it once was.
After years of using federal school-lunch dollars to keep prices low, districts have been required since 2011-12 to steadily increase the price of a paid school lunch to close the gap between what the government pays for a student meal and what a child pays. The federal law that required cafeterias to serve more fruits and vegetables also mandates that schools increase lunch prices by up to
Many local school districts are imposing increases of a nickel or a dime this year to satisfy the federal requirement that lunch prices rise to meet government subsidies. That has pushed the average price of an elementary school lunch in
But some school districts have found they need to ask families to pay even more than the federally mandated increases to make up for rising costs.
"We can't run in a deficit," said
Several factors affect the increased cafeteria expenses.
Food prices are up. The healthier lunches that school districts now serve cost more, and the price of health insurance and other employee benefits continue to rise. All that has happened at a time when fewer students are buying lunch and enrollment in most schools has declined.