New Data Sheds Light On The Concerning Reality Of School Lunch Prices

We all remember the days of eating lunch at school. If you didn't come with a brown paper bag lunch, chances are you were eating a hot lunch from the cafeteria (for better or for worse). For some, eating cafeteria food is a nuisance — for others, it's a long-awaited meal that otherwise wouldn't be eaten at home.

For two years during the pandemic, every child had access to complimentary breakfast and lunch, no matter their household income. However, the federal government didn't renew the school lunch program for the new 2022-23 school year (per PBS). Those who remain below or somewhere in between the poverty line still have access to free or reduced-priced lunches, according to the USDA. But where does that leave other families?

It's no secret that inflation has increased the cost of food in grocery stores. But many may not realize the impact it's had on the price of school lunches — especially for those who don't qualify for free or reduced school lunches.

Families are feeling the pinch of inflated school lunch prices

Per a Jan. 18 CBS News report, data from the Consumer Price Index sheds light on the increasing concern inflation has on school lunch prices. The annual increase of food at schools has gone nearly 305% compared to the previous year.

CBS News reports that the average cost of an elementary school breakfast is $1.73, followed by $1.75 at middle schools and $1.80 at high schools. Lunch, on the other hand, costs $2.75 at an elementary school and $3 at both middle schools and high schools. These prices add up for parents with more than one mouth to feed. For example, a family with three children could pay more than $67 in weekly school lunches.

It's not only the parents who are hurting but the schools, too. Between the increase in food prices, supply chain issues, and labor shortages, schools are in debt. A School Nutrition Association survey states that school meal debts are more than $19 million in districts that don't offer free lunches. Moving forward, many hope the school lunch benefits that were previously in place will be renewed. States including California, Massachusetts, and Vermont are already funding free lunches. The SNA is also pleading with lawmakers to bring back free meals for all children, regardless of their families' income brackets (per CBS News).