Prices for all standard lunches will go up for all grade levels in 2013-14. Elementary school prices will go up 10 cents to $2.55. Middle school and high school lunches will go up 25 cents, to $2.75 and $2.80, respectively. Deluxe lunches for middle schools and high schools will stay the same at $3.85.
The reason behind the increase is a rise in pension costs for food service employees, which the school board’s analysts have predicted for next year. The Food Services program is losing money, but “the only way to get out of the financial hole is to increase participation,” Superintendent David Title told the school board at its June meeting.
The number of meals per day declined in the 2012-13 compared with the previous year, from 3,793 to 3,053. As a result, the department brought in $350,000 less in revenues compared with 2011-12.
The decline may have been a reaction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s changed regulations for school lunches, said John White, who took over the Food Services Department on a temporary basis this year.
The USDA reimburses the town partially for each meal it serves that meets its healthy meal guidelines. The USDA changed its guidelines before the start of the school year to make meals healthier. The changes included portion limits and requiring each student to take at least one fruit or vegetable.
“Not only here in Fairfield, but throughout the state and across the United States, a lot of students rejected that being forced to have to take something,” White said.
In March, the USDA relaxed some of its portion limits to allow for bigger meals for high school and middle school students. But the district is still trying to move toward healthier lunches, which include less processed food and more locally sourced fruits and vegetables.
To keep the healthy lunches but convince more students to buy them, the Food Services Department has planned to improve its communications with families. White’s ideas include enlisting “student ambassadors” at each school to tell the department which meals kids liked and which ones were not well-received. They also plan to have representatives at each school’s Open House to tout the lunch program.
Food Services will also continue its sampling program, which offers kids a free sample of healthy alternatives to get them to try new things. Cafeterias also include posters with fun facts about each sample food.
“That generates a lot of excitement with the children,” Food Services Director Joann Fitzpatrick told the school board last month.
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