Full stomach, empty wallet: Are school lunches too expensive?
It’s lunch hour for sophomore Yaphet May and he picks up a sandwich, an Arizona tea and trail mix. It doesn’t seem like much, but his one lunch ends up costing $5.50. Similarly, junior Jamie Dovolis gets a classic lunch with a Snapple and a Pop Tart, which comes to $5.75. If a classic meal consisting of an entrée, milk, dessert, fruits and vegetables is $3.75, how do their lunches come to cost so much more?
“The main meal is fine but à la cart is a little pricey,” said freshman Asha Womack. “A piece of pizza should not be three dollars.”
This year, students are spending more money than previous years on school lunches and many are complaining. According to Time magazine, the average cost of a U.S. school lunch in 2008 was $2.58. The price has been fluctuating due to changing nutritional regulations but a typical Minnehaha lunch is $3.75, over a dollar more than the average. However, chef Jonathan Barnes of Taher Foods believes that because of the good quality, large quantity and many options, the prices are reasonable.
“We do everything fresh and from scratch,” said Barnes. “For example, taco meat. We bring in 80 pounds of ground beef and make it fresh that morning with fresh seasonings. Now, I can go and lower my prices and then I have it come out of a white bucket where it’s, I think they call it back in the industry…pink slime, basically a filler, a very high soy based product with seasonings made in a factory.”
Not only does Barnes care about the quality of the food, but about what kinds of food students want. Barnes decides the lunch schedule by directly asking students what they want and when they want it.
“I remember last year they wanted Arizonas, Arizonas, Arizonas. We now have them,” said Barnes.
Arizonas are a very popular drink amongst students. However, they cost $1.50, making students’ lunches more than five dollars. This is just one example of how fast the overall price of lunch can rise.
Lunch prices have risen this year but so has the quantity. This year each serving is about one pound of food not including fruits and vegetables.
“I’ve noticed this year, a lot of the student body has appreciated the portion sizes compared to last year. A lot of kids aren’t coming up for seconds anymore because they’re full,” stated Barnes.
After hearing Barnes’s explanation of prices, Womack reconsidered her opinion.
“I still think that a piece of pizza shouldn’t be only 75 cents less than the main meal,” she said. “I can understand that extra drinks and snacks are what rack up the price, but one dollar should buy me more than a pack of Gushers.”
Cathleen Gosselin of the math department thinks that the food is worth the cost at the discounted price teachers get of $3.25. Gosselin wishes students could get meals for this price as well.
Minnehaha is not alone in rising lunch costs. Public schools, having to follow federal lunch nutritional guidelines, struggle with rising prices as they introduce healthier options. Lunches may have gotten more expensive this year, but quality, quantity and options come with a cost.