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The Cost of Switching to Healthier Foods

The cost of school lunch is about $2.92, compared to the federal reimbursement rate of $2.68.

According to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 2009 School Nutrition Operations Report almost every school district in the nation provides fresh fruits and vegetables, salad bars or prepared salads, and whole grains. Organizers of school nutrition programs are working hard to provide students with an even greater variety of healthy foods, but they struggle to manage the cost of these enhancements. SNA found that the average cost to prepare and serve a school lunch that meets federal nutritional standards at the start of school year 2008-2009 was $2.92. The federal reimbursement rate for that free lunch is only $2.68 for school year 2009-2010, leaving financially strapped schools to make up the difference.

- In Alexandria City (Va.) Public Schools, the switch to whole grain buns for sandwiches cost the 12,000-student district nearly $75,000.

- Last year, Beavercreek City (Ohio) Schools served 87,000 packages of apple slices at a cost of 30 cents a serving. The apple slices are a more popular and more nutritious choice than canned applesauce, but they are more than double the price and cost the schools about $15,000 more than the applesauce.

- In Polk County (Fla.) Public Schools, canned green beans run 11 cents a serving, while fresh green beans cost 17 cents a serving. The difference cost an additional $5,520 on one side dish, just for one school day. (The nutritional value of the two foods is identical.)