CUMBERLAND — A federally mandated shift to healthier school menus means higher costs and a likely increase in the costs of meals for parents of kids paying full price for a place in the schools’ cafeteria lines.
The cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, and other changes required by the government, will drive up the cost of the average lunch, said Todd Lutton, director of food services for Allegany County Public Schools.
“It’s going to be a challenge, it really is,” Lutton said. “This is going to be a significant impact on food service,” he said. Ketchup will need to be purchased in packets rather than containers to help control sodium content, he said.
Lunches must cut back on favorites such as tater tots and macaroni and cheese, Lutton has said.
At the board’s work session Tuesday, Lutton recommended increasing the cost of lunches for the upcoming year.
The five-cent increase for lunches was passed by the board as part of their consent agenda at Tuesday evening’s board meeting, bringing the cost of full price meals at the elementary schools to $2.20 and at the middle and high schools to $2.40. The price of breakfast will not increase.
Even with the increase, the school system loses money on every lunch they serve, since the average lunch costs about $3.30, Lutton said in response to a question by board member Laurie Marchini.
It’s going to cost more than six cents per lunch to meet the new regulations, Lutton said.
Among other changes as of July 1, half of the grains offered must be whole grains, including bread products and a move is required to skim milk.
The federal government could cut a county out of the school lunch program if they do not institute the menu changes, Lutton said. The healthy menus aren’t mandated for school breakfasts until 2013.
“It’s government at its absolute worst,” said Jeff Metz, a school board member, who described the federal mandate as “intrusive.”
“I think it’s criminal (that) we’re forced to raise lunch prices,” Metz said.
The federal government funding for the school food programs has remained stagnant at about 48 percent, while the requirements have become more expensive, Lutton said.
The Obama administration’s Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 includes the first major changes to public schools food services programs in 15 years, said Todd Lutton.
“They want us to decrease sodium, decrease starchy vegetables,” Lutton has said. “So, potatoes, like, one cup a week.”
Contact Matthew Bieniek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer Kristin Harty Barkley contributed to this story.