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Higher prices land on school lunch trays

A student at the University of California, Berkeley carries a tray with organic vegetables at the school's Crossroads dining commons.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: The gathering this weekend of high finance and macroeconomic types in Washington wasn't all about the credit squeeze and the dollar. The World Bank, in particular, made a point of talking about rising food prices and scarcity. In most places here in the US there's plenty of food, but prices are getting most everyday shoppers to be a bit more cost conscious, so imagine what it's like for people who have to buy for school hot lunch programs.

Schools around the country have had to raise their prices, and Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, it's making it tougher to fill those cafeteria trays with healthy foods, too.


SARAH GARDNER: Franceen Lupa provides healthy meals to 3,000 students in the Amherst, New Hampshire public schools, but she says that's getting harder all the time. Rising fuel costs, along with the increased cost of corn, used in everything from feed to ethanol, have pushed up the price of all foods.

FRANCEEN LUPA: Grapes were $18 to $20 a case, and the same case is $60 in the month of January and February.

Lupa says she's serving more canned peaches and applesauce now. She's also raised hot lunch prices and laid off two workers. Federal subsidies haven't kept up with food inflation, and school districts around the country are struggling to meet their healthy food goals, which often cost more. Many districts were just starting to give up the sloppy joe and chicken nugget routine. Jim Weill heads up the Food Research and Action Center.

JIM WEILL: What's going to happen is schools are going to lose money and the pushback against obesity is going to be weakened.

Some food service directors are back to selling high-profit snack-type items to stay in the black. Others are begging school boards to carve out funds from other parts of district budgets, but Mary Hill, president of the School Nutrition Association, says that's a hard sell.

MARY HILL: They need funding as well, to stay on top of purchasing books, paying teachers, those kinds of things.

Hill says her group will press the new Congress for a substantial hike in school meal subsidies. That would please food service directors like Lupa. She finally got multigrain breads into her cafeterias, and she'd like to keep them there.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.
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