CRYSTAL LAKE – A slightly more expensive lunch this fall in District 155 aims to balance increased food costs and federal mandates – all without hitting parents where it hurts most, their pocketbooks.
The school board last month unanimously approved the 30-cent increase – to $2.80 – for student lunches. The price for the student deli and adult lunches will remain the same at $3.75.
The district's food costs rose 4 percent in the past year, and it has increased meal prices annually since 2007, documents show.
The district received federal reimbursement of $2.77 last year for each free meal served to students as a part of the National School Lunch Program.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires districts to price a paid meal at least at what it is reimbursed for a free meal, business manager Jeff Carr said.
“The cost of District 155 lunch remains well under the price a student would pay at an off-campus eatery,” Carr said. “We work to keep our costs low through buying in bulk and optimizing our menus and staff. Our lunches are not a source of considerable revenue for the district.”
Juniors and seniors at its four high schools can leave campus for lunch with authorization from a parent or guardian. Freshmen and sophomores must eat lunch on campus.
The National School Lunch Program standards include age-appropriate calorie limits, larger servings of vegetables and more whole grains. The meals also meet strict limits for saturated fat and portion sizes.
In working toward those standards, school officials have tested menu items the past few years, said Sue Hennelly, food service coordinator for the district. That has included an annual healthier food fair at Crystal Lake South High School, where vendors come in and students can taste-test healthy options that may be offered the next year.
Among district concerns are that food costs may rise further because of severe drought conditions.
“We will not, however, increase the costs of a school lunch during the year,” Carr said. “But it is something to be mindful of as we budget for next school year. This will be a concern for most school districts.”
The district also is moving forward with a cashless lunch system that has been slowly instituted over the past two years.
The program allows parents to add money to a students' identification card for lunch.
This fall administrators will introduce cashless lines in cafeterias in an attempt to shorten lines, handle less cash, monitor food choices, and help families budget their money, Carr said.
The district also is doing away with a 50-cent fee parents previously were charged to place money on their students’ account by credit card.