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SNA: School Meal Costs Outpace Reimbursement Rates

The average cost to prepare a school lunch has increased 10 percent since the 2007-2008 school year, according to a report published by the School Nutrition Association (SNA). It was based on an analysis of information from 48 school nutrition programs that operate in some of the largest districts within the US.

The report, “Heats On: School Meals Under Financial Pressure,” shows the average cost rose from $2.63 to $2.90 for schools to prepare a school lunch that meets federal nutrition standards. Over the same timeframe, schools received only a 4.3% increase in the federal reimbursement for each free lunch provided to low income students, leaving a gap of at least $4.5 million for the estimated 30 million school lunches served each day.

To compensate, school districts have raised lunch prices by 12 cents, to an average of $2.08 in the 2007-2008 school year, the reports says, noting that 73% of school districts are increasing meal prices for students. It adds that 88% of school nutrition programs found the National School Lunch Program reimbursement insufficient in covering the cost of producing a meal during the 2007-2008 school year. Given the rising costs for the upcoming school year, this figure is expected to increase in the coming months, SNA adds.

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