School lunch prices go up

Rising food costs and federal requirements for school lunch nutritional standards will be passed on to parents and students as a 20-cent increase per school lunch next year.

Trumbull Public Schools food services manager Betty Sinko came before the Board of Education last week to request approval of the increase. The food services program is self-sustaining and not supported by the district’s operating budget. This year, program income is down significantly compared to last year around this time. An increase would go toward maintaining quality, Sinko said, and helping to cover capital costs.

Sinko said the amount of produce food services is required to serve has increased and students are required to take a produce option with their meal. Food costs are also up by about 10%. Sinko said the healthy requirements are good overall and food services employees are working to encourage children to try the healthy options. In elementary school cafeterias, children can see the different vegetables on display and get a sticker for trying something new.

“It’s worth every penny,” Sinko said. “When you run nine restaurants, there is a cost.”

Trumbull lunch costs are currently $2.55 at the elementary schools, $2.65 at the middle schools and $2.80 at the high school. The average price in Fairfield County for a school lunch this year was $2.55 in elementary, $2.75 in middle and $2.91 in high school. On average, Trumbull Public Schools lunches cost about 10 cents less than in surrounding communities surveyed. School lunches were most expensive this year in Darien, ranging from $3.15 in elementary school to $3.75 in high school. New Canaan’s elementary school lunch cost is $3.50. On the other end of the spectrum, the lowest cost for school lunch is in Enfield, where elementary lunch is $1.75, and middle school and high school lunch is $2.25.

Board member Tom Kelly said he was concerned about passing that cost on to parents.

“It’s a challenging issue,” he said. “Twenty cents a day is $36 a year for parents. I don’t want people to get discouraged from getting lunch due to cost.”

Sinko said she considered the increase carefully. In the past 20 years, food services has requested three increases and the last one was for the 2011-12 school year.

“It would cost you a lot more to make these lunches at home,” Sinko said. “You can’t compare.”

Board member Stephen Wright said that Sinko has always been ahead of the curve in moving toward healthier options.

“We’re still below the average,” Wright said of other districts.