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updated: 8/14/2014 1:08 PM

Reduced-price lunches jumping to $2 in District 214

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This increase in breakfast/lunch prices is more than four times as much as what students who qualify for reduced-price lunches paid last year.

The daily cost of reduced-price breakfast and lunch will be more than four times as much for students at Northwest Suburban High School District 214 starting this fall.

The price increase, due to the district's decision to drop out of the federal National School Lunch program, will affect about 500 students who qualify for reduced-price meals, officials said.

Students who qualify for free breakfasts and lunches will still get them at no cost, said Cathy Johnson, associate superintendent for finance and operations.

Students who qualified for reduced prices last year paid 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch each day. Those prices are now rising to $1 and $2, respectively, altogether a 329 percent increase.

The regular price for lunch is between $3 and $3.50 per student, Johnson said.

District 214 decided last May to drop the national School Lunch Program because, officials said, the rules were too restrictive on what could be served.

As a result District 214 no longer gets the federal funding that subsidized free and reduced-price lunches.

The subsidy is part of $900,000 in federal funding District 214 is losing out on this year. Officials say they hope to make up the lost money in other areas and by selling more attractive lunches.

"We recognize it is important to continue to provide students who qualify for reduced lunch with financial assistance with access to healthy, balanced meals," Johnson said.

Last year 28 percent of District 214 students were on free or reduced-price meals. Numbers for the upcoming school year are not yet available.

District 214's decision to drop out of the National School Lunch program comes as the new "Smart Snacks in Schools" law went into effect July 1. The law mandates what can be served, not only for reimbursable meals but for all food made available in the morning, during the school day and 30 minutes after school ends.

"We felt it would limit what we could offer our students," Johnson said, citing rules that wouldn't allow healthier items like hummus and hard-boiled eggs on the menu and would regulate the food sold at bake sales and at concession stands.

Officials said they hope the cost increase will be manageable for students, but they will watch it on a regular basis.

"It's something we are going to have to monitor over the course of the year, just like we are monitoring food sales with the new menu options," said Jessica Thunberg, director of community engagement and outreach.

Students who qualify for free breakfast and lunch will not be affected by the change.

"The only difference they will see is that ... the lunch itself will be better," Johnson said. "It's going to be nutritious, it's going to be appealing. The variety we're going to be able to offer this year is so exciting."

She added the price increase is meant to help District 214 break even, not make money.

"Our food service program is in no way a for-profit endeavor," she said. "The costs that are put together are from the costs of food and labor. Any additional revenue, which is minimal, is invested back into the food service program. It's not like the district is going to make money on this."

Other local high school districts have opted out of the federal program in recent years including Maine Township District 207, Glenbrook District 225, Niles Township District 219 and Stevenson District 125.

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