Price of school lunches going up

The rising cost of producing school lunches will be passed along by Federal Way Public Schools to students and their famlies next school year.

An increase of 25 cents will make the new price of lunch $2 in elementary schools and $2.25 for middle and high schools.

Breakfasts will remain $1.25.

The increase will be the second in as many years. Lunches and breakfasts went up 15 cents last September, three years after the prior increase, officials said.

The school district, grappling with a $3.5 million decrease in state funds, must absorb more of the expense of providing student meals. So-called hidden costs –– electricity, water, delivery and maintenance of the central kitchen –– have gone up, said Mary Asplund, director the past 14 years of the nutrition department.

The meals are still a good deal, though, Asplund said. Students get several choices of entrees, plus salads and other items that fit federal nutritional guidelines and this year helped the nutrition department receive an “excellent” rating in a U.S. Department of Agriculture audit. And the food and raw ingredients –– enough for two semi-truck deliveries each week –– are purchased at bargain prices through a cooperative serving about 40 school districts from Bothell to Tumwater.

Asplund, citing state figures, said that compared to at least one comparable-size district, Federal Way has served 2 million more meals for the same $19 million in state revenue the past five years.

“We make pennies scream on the way out the door,” she said.

One way to economical meals is by preparing them at the central kitchen located near the district bus yard on South 320th Street, then trucking them to schools. That’s less expensive than having kitchens and staffs at individual schools, Asplund said.

When the current school year ends June 14, the nutrition department’s 150 part-time employees wlil have served more than 2 million lunches, 350,000-plus breakfasts and more than 31,000 snacks.

Crews at the central kitchen start cooking at 5:30 a.m. each school day and don’t stop until 13,000 meals have headed out the door.

Noting that hungry children don’t concentrate fully on schoolwork, Asplund said the district wants to ensure that every student gets a nutritional meal at a reasonable cost.

Federal Way’s price increase for the 2002-03 school year won’t affect reduced-price lunches, which in effect are free. The district doesn’t charge for meals for children from low-income families, thus drawing more in more children and increasing its reimbursement from the state, Asplund said.

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