Local parents paying to have their child eat a ‘hot lunch’ at school may consider packing a sandwich for their little one as the Turlock Unified School District will be charging $40 more a year for school lunches to account for increased food costs in upcoming years.
"This is our first lunch price increase in eight years," said Scott Soiseth, TUSD director of child nutrition. "We buy off the open market and we're like the consumer at the store. If milk prices are up two cents per carton that's not much unless you’re buying 9,000 cartons a day for 180 days like we are."
The lunch price increase will go into effect July 1 for the parents of the roughly 5,000 students who purchase lunch from the District. Meal prices at the elementary sites will increase from $1.75 per lunch to $2 and high school lunch prices will increase from $2.50 to $2.75. With new federal mandates that require districts to offer more fruit, whole grain and clean protein food products, TUSD is compensating for increased food costs without increased revenue. The new increase will not affect students who participate in the Free and Reduced Lunch program.
With projected cost increases that could leave the Child Nutrition department paying up to 10 percent more for food and supplies, as well as a potential increase in labor costs, the department is aiming to mitigate issues down the road by increasing lunch prices effective July 1. While utilities, water, electricity, gas and fuel is projected to increase by 10 percent, the value of the fresh fruit and vegetables are also at stake as the drought has driven up market prices on produce.
“We’re very fortunate to be in the Valley where we have access to such great produce and food, and we are conservative in our choices, but the prices do affect us,” said Soiseth.
Compared to nearby districts, TUSD is still relatively economical for parents as the $2 elementary lunch is five cents cheaper than Manteca Unified School District and 25 cents less expensive than Tracy Unified School District. As TUSD has recently converted to 100 percent whole grain products and is increasingly incorporating more fruits and vegetables, which despite being federally mandated is an increased cost for the District, Soiseth sees the pinch of the price increase an indicator of an increasingly healthier district.
“I think that this is just part of where we’re going in Child Nutrition and Food Services. It’s changing,” said Soiseth.