Lunch prices in Wauwatosa schools will go up 10 cents per lunch next year due to federal guidelines mandating healthier offerings for schoolchildren, costing an estimated $68,897 more.
School lunch officials told the Wauwatosa School Board this week that they are mandated by a President Obama-championed law to increase the offerings of food such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains in student lunches next year. Wauwatosa schools serve some 531,000 lunches to 14 different schools.
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However, the officials said the extra cost is likely to be largely funded by grants. Director of Business Services John Mack pointed out that the district receives federal aid that it could be at risk of losing if it didn’t follow the requirements.
“We want to make sure kids are getting healthy meals,” said Brigid Benson, district manager of Sodexo, the third-party food service provider that works with Wauwatosa's school lunch program.
Benson said that the district’s participation in the National School Lunch program requires what is called “lunch equity pricing” — meaning that paid lunch prices must follow a complex formula when schools also offer free and paid lunches. That formula means that schools are supposed to charge $2.51 per lunch, but the federal government advises that, if they aren’t, schools only raise the prices no more than 10 cents per year.
As a result, the price increases will be as follows next year:
- Elementary school students will pay $2.35 per lunch, up from $2.25
- Secondary school students will pay $2.45 per lunch, up from $2.35
Officials said that 60% of Wauwatosa school children receive free or reduced lunches.
They also said that the bulk of changes under the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010, will start taking place next year.
“This requires major changes to K-12 school meals for the first time in 30 years,” said Benson. “They will be more nutritious.”
Specifically, meals must have:
- An increase in fresh fruits and vegetables
- Be 51% whole grain next year and 100% whole grain the year after that
- Not allow 2% milk. (School officials say they have already made the change to 1% or skim milk).
- Less sodium. Districts are being allowed a 10-year progressive decline in the rate of sodium, which must drop from 50% over 10 years.
- Portable water must be accessible
Right now, some students don’t take any fruits or vegetables in their lunches. Next year, school officials will “be checking to see that each student leaves with fruit and vegetables on the plate,” Benson said.
Some specifics about the changes will include:
- Currently, school lunches have ½ to 1 cup of fruit and vegetables combined.
- Next year, they will have ¾ to 1 cup of vegetables plus ¾ to 1 cup of fruit.
The lunch officials presented case study menus to the board to show how the changes will affect costs. For example, this year, a student might be offered a fruit drink and slice of pizza with a vegetable. Next year, there will be more fruit or vegetable, and the pizza crust will have to be whole grain. The fruit drink won’t count as a full portion of fruit. Total additional cost, 24 cents per meal.
Another example: Hamburger buns would have to be whole grain, costing nearly 6 cents more.