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Wauwatosa School Lunch Prices, Healthy Offerings Increasing Next Year

Changes are mandated by a federal law championed by the President Obama administration to improve children's health

Lunch prices in Wauwatosa schools will go up 10 cents per lunch next year due to federal guidelines mandating healthier offerings for schoolchildren, costing an estimated $68,897 more.

School lunch officials told the Wauwatosa School Board this week that they are mandated by a President Obama-championed law to increase the offerings of food such as fruits and vegetables and whole grains in student lunches next year. Wauwatosa schools serve some 531,000 lunches to 14 different schools.

  • Discuss: What changes would you like to see in school lunches? Tell us in the comments.

However, the officials said the extra cost is likely to be largely funded by grants. Director of Business Services John Mack pointed out that the district receives federal aid that it could be at risk of losing if it didn’t follow the requirements.

“We want to make sure kids are getting healthy meals,” said Brigid Benson, district manager of Sodexo, the third-party food service provider that works with Wauwatosa's school lunch program.

Benson said that the district’s participation in the National School Lunch program requires what is called “lunch equity pricing” — meaning that paid lunch prices must follow a complex formula when schools also offer free and paid lunches.  That formula means that schools are supposed to charge $2.51 per lunch, but the federal government advises that, if they aren’t, schools only raise the prices no more than 10 cents per year.

As a result, the price increases will be as follows next year:

  • Elementary school students will pay $2.35 per lunch, up from $2.25
  • Secondary school students will pay $2.45 per lunch, up from $2.35

Officials said that 60% of Wauwatosa school children receive free or reduced lunches.

They also said that the bulk of changes under the federal Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010, will start taking place next year.

“This requires major changes to K-12 school meals for the first time in 30 years,” said Benson. “They will be more nutritious.”

Specifically, meals must have:

  • An increase in fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Be 51% whole grain next year and 100% whole grain the year after that
  • Not allow 2% milk. (School officials say they have already made the change to 1% or skim milk).
  • Less sodium. Districts are being allowed a 10-year progressive decline in the rate of sodium, which must drop from 50% over 10 years.
  • Portable water must be accessible

Right now, some students don’t take any fruits or vegetables in their lunches. Next year, school officials will “be checking to see that each student leaves with fruit and vegetables on the plate,” Benson said.

Some specifics about the changes will include:

  • Currently, school lunches have ½ to 1 cup of fruit and vegetables combined.
  • Next year, they will have ¾ to 1 cup of vegetables plus ¾ to 1 cup of fruit.

The lunch officials presented case study menus to the board to show how the changes will affect costs. For example, this year, a student might be offered a fruit drink and slice of pizza with a vegetable. Next year, there will be more fruit or vegetable, and the pizza crust will have to be whole grain. The fruit drink won’t count as a full portion of fruit. Total additional cost, 24 cents per meal.

Another example: Hamburger buns would have to be whole grain, costing nearly 6 cents more.

Jennifer Lautz June 19, 2012 at 03:01 PM
As of October 2011, Wauwatosa had 24.3% participation in free or reduced-price lunches, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Where did the 60% number come from? http://dpi.wi.gov/fns/progstat.html
Dick at SCORE June 19, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Jessica McB....Looks like an invitation to do some real digging. Go ahead, commit a random act of journalism; find, and let us know the real numbers and the facts and/or fiction behind the assertions of the officials' 60% and the DPI's 24%.
Jennifer Lautz June 19, 2012 at 10:52 PM
After thinking about it, did the "officials" mean that 60% of Wauwatosa students WHO BUY SCHOOL LUNCHES are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches? That would make more sense.
Jim Price June 19, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Looking into it and will report back soon, but I suspect that Jennifer is on the right track. It's most likely that just 24% of all students enrolled in Tosa schools qualify and avail themselves of free or reduced price lunches (per DPI), but only 60% of those enrolled who do in fact buy school lunches qualify for free or reduced price meals (others bring their own, presumably, or don't eat lunch, perhaps). That would mean a very substantial portion of students don't eat school-provided lunches regularly (whether they would qualify or not), and that only 40% of those who do fail to qualify under free/reduced guidelines. And, by the way, the bar is not that high for reduced-price meals. It's something like 2 1/2 times the federal poverty line, so you don't have to be really poor-poor to get the discount. But I know that's not good enough for you, and not good enough for Patch, either. I will find out tomorrow what the true skinny is, and I'll let you know. (I was on vacation last week, but I do trust that Jessica heard what she reported, vis a vis the 60% figure.)
Dick at SCORE June 20, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Thanks, Jim; looking forward to your results.

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