Utah – School districts are having trouble keeping school lunches affordable with inflation-increasing prices.
Under the CARES Act, for the past two years, every student got lunch for free, now lunch costs are back ranging from prices of less than a dollar to a couple of bucks.
But school districts across Utah are making sure kids don’t have to worry about getting a meal. “It’s important for all kids to have access to those really fun and nutritious menu items that we serve for both breakfast and lunch,” a spokesperson for Canyons School District Jeff Haney said.
Many Utah school districts said they didn’t increase the price of school meals despite inflation increasing food costs. “We understand families have been hit hard not only by the pandemic but by inflation,” Haney said.
School meals are no longer free under the CARES Act. Instead, parents must apply for free and reduced meals.
According to Jordan School District, they still have a wide menu with old and new favorites, but they’ve had to pull some options. “A lot of it happened naturally where maybe a beef producer would make 11 different beef patties for us to choose from, where they skimmed their line down to maybe five or six,” Director of Nutrition Services at Jordan School District Katie Bastian said.
Canyons School District has changed how students pay for lunch in order to decrease the number of employees they need to staff their cafeterias. “We were having a hard time finding people to be our lunch clerks, but we also didn’t want to increase the prices so the tradeoff there is we have moved to the online payment system,” Haney said.
A new Brigham Young University study found that students who enjoy lunchtime are more likely to feel belonging at school; which correlates with better grades and mental health.
According to schools, they’re adamant about making lunchtime a good experience for kids, not something students have to worry about. “We want students’ lunch period to be the best part of their day,” Bastian said.
Schools encouraged parents to apply for free and reduced lunch and said you can apply at any point of the year if your financial situation changes.