City school lunch prices up 20 cents

Sep 13, 2012 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

This year's 20-cent increase in lunch prices for Riverton students had little to do with the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, officials said.

Instead, the Fremont County School District 25 Board of Trustees approved the hike July 18 at the suggestion of business manager Mike Collins, who said the increase was past due.

"We were evaluating our revenue and where we were compared to all of the other school districts in the state," Collins said Tuesday. "We were just way, way behind what the state average was. ... We had to do something."

Since 2005, Collins said lunch prices in Riverton have been set at $1.70 for kindergarteners through third-graders, $1.80 for the fourth and fifth grades, and $1.95 for older students. In contrast, the average price for lunch at schools statewide was $2.16 for elementary schoolers, $2.42 for middle schoolers and $2.46 for high schoolers.

"So you can see how we were a little out of line," Collins said.

He added that he does not expect Riverton prices to reach the state average, as Fremont County is not the "economically strongest" county in the state.

"We want the kids to eat," Collins said. "If you make the prices too high, then it's tough on everybody."

Elementary school lunches in Riverton will cost $1.90, and middle school and high school lunches will cost $2.15. Collins said the fourth and fifth grades only saw a 10-cent increase in price because of federal mandates that require smaller portions of food for those age groups.

"In prior years, fourth- and fifth-graders had larger portions than K-3," Collins said. "That was the reason they were charged more -- they got more. ... But now they've reduced the fourth- and fifth-grade portions so they have the same portion size as K-3. (And) since they decreased the quantity for that grade level, we decided we weren't going to charge them extra."

School districts throughout the country have had to make changes to meal plans this year to comply with the federal government's updated nutrition standards as outlined in the HHFKA. According to the National Parent Teacher Association, some of the changes include offerings of both fruits and vegetables every day; increasing servings of whole-grain-rich foods; providing only fat-free or low-fat milk; limiting calories based on the age of children to ensure proper portion size; and reducing amounts of saturated fat, trans-fats, added sugars and sodium. In exchange for improving the meal offerings, districts will receive an additional 6-cent-per-meal reimbursement from the federal government.

In Riverton, Collins said schools already have provided students with fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, and other modifications required by the HHFKA have not resulted in major changes in cost for the district.

"This price increase we have (this year) was not directly related to anything to do with that," Collins said of the HHFKA. "We didn't see a huge increase from our vendor because of it. Everyone's trying to work together to make this work."

He said he is interested to monitor potential impacts of the lunch menu changes, especially when it comes to students who may rely on their meals at school to get them through the rest of the day. Collins said those children would not benefit from fewer calories.

"They need as many carbs as they can get," he said, adding that most district administrators in the country don't believe public school programs have contributed to obesity in the United States.

"But we comply with the rules," Collins said. "Some kids will be grumbling that they can't have some of the things they used to. But the days of just having peanut butter and jelly for lunch are gone."

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