Change in School Lunch Costs: Why, and Is This Reasonable?

By Tennyson Anderson-Stricklin

Recent increases in the cost of school lunches at Heritage have caused financial strain for students, yet these price escalations may be justified by national economic struggle caused by the recent pandemic.

Many students argue that these price hikes are not justified because the extent of these rising costs are unreasonable in comparison to the stagnant quality of the food. A group of polled students came to a consensus that for $4.25, the food would need to up its quality to something slightly more “gourmet”. Since 2019, the cost of a high school lunch in the LPS district has risen from $3.25 to $4.25, a full dollar, while the food served has majorly remained of the same quality.

Of 33 random students polled during a lunch period in the Student Center, 28 of them agreed that the lunch prices are too high for the quality of food provided. “[Just under] Five dollars is too steep a price for a school lunch. It discourages eating at school,” one Heritage senior states.

To contrast the students’ arguments that the lack of increase in lunch quality along with prices, Suzanne Heskin, the Nutrition Services Manager, puts forward that cost increases are only to keep up with national inflation and high cost of goods after COVID-19.

“The pandemic created a huge upheaval in our world, and that includes manufacturing and production of food and paper products needed to run a kitchen or restaurant. Often if they’re hard to get; they either become more expensive or their replacement is more expensive,” explains Heskin.

Economic disruption at the national and global scale is far out of the hands of one school district, and it is not only LPS experiencing these price increases on school lunches. In the past three years, Jefferson Public Schools has increased their high school lunch prices by exactly $1 since 2019.

Ms. Heskin further elaborates, “The price increases allow us to cover our costs and pay our staff, thus preventing the need to take money from the general fund.  We believe the money in the general fund should go to the students.”

Taking both of these perspectives into account, it is safe to say that price increases cannot be helped in inflationary times, yet it is undecided whether these are justified given the unchanging quality of school lunches. As of now, the Littleton Public School district has no plans to convert to a “free for all students” lunch program, yet a proposition regarding this issue will appear on the Colorado state ballot these coming midterms. Proposition FF, if passed, will work to convert all public school districts in Colorado to a free lunch program for all students. Despite its future being uncertain, this provides hope for some students in tight financial situations.

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