Schools Get A Lesson in Lunch Line Economics
Food Costs Unravel Nutrition Initiatives
By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008; A01
New York students will have to settle for pizza without tasty turkey pepperoni topping. In Montgomery County schools, tomato slices were pulled for a few weeks from cafeteria salads in favor of less-expensive carrots or celery.
And in Davie County, N.C., Yoo-hoo drinks, which had been taken off the shelf in favor of healthier options, are back. Sure, officials would rather the kids chugged milk. But each Yoo-hoo sale brings in 36 cents of profit.
Sharp rises in the cost of milk, grain and fresh fruits and vegetables are hitting cafeterias across the country, forcing cash-strapped schools to raise prices or pinch pennies by serving more economical dishes. Some school officials on a mission to help fight childhood obesity say it's becoming harder to fill students' plates with healthy, low-fat foods.
lSeveral Washington area school systems -- including those in Prince George's, Fairfax and Prince William counties and Alexandria -- are proposing to increase lunch prices next school year. For Prince George's schools, it would be the first increase in a decade.
For Montgomery schools, this year's dairy bill is expected to be about $600,000 more than last year. Officials expect to decide in June whether to seek an increase in meal prices.
Becky Domokos-Bays, director of food and nutrition for Alexandria schools, said schools need to raise prices to cover rising food and labor costs but worries that even small increases will strain middle-class families who don't qualify for a price break. The School Board approved a 10-cent increase for students who pay full price, raising the lunch price in elementary school to $2.15 and in middle and high schools to $2.45.
"There's a tipping point somewhere, and I think we're there," Domokos-Bays said. "I don't know how much more families can afford to pay."