No such thing as a free lunch any more

Federal pandemic program that paid for school meals comes to an end; district increases prices
By 
COREY SCHMIDT
Ozaukee Press staff

Money will be joining the lunch line this  school year.

After two years of free school meals  granted by United States Department of Agriculture, students will be paying once again. The waiver was originally implemented under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to combat financial struggles related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The act provided students with two free meals a day.

When this waiver came into play, the Northern Ozaukee School District didn’t know how long it would last. Despite the waiver the board increased meal prices by 10 cents last year to avoid a sudden price jump.

“What we did, not knowing if we would ever go back to paid lunches, was the board made a motion last year to increase prices to keep up with inflation,” Joshua McDaniel, the district’s director of business services, said.

McDaniel said this saved the district from completely reconstructing lunch prices.

This year the school board took action to change lunch prices once again. Students will see a 10 cent increase in standard meal options across all age levels. Elementary school lunches will cost $3 while middle and high school lunches will cost $3.25. Adult prices saw a 10 cent decrease to $5.

McDaniel said the price difference between the elementary school and the middle and high schools is due to portion sizes driven by nutrition recommendations.

Middle and high school combo and specialty lunch prices saw a decrease. All meals, regardless of type, will cost $3.25. This is different from last year where the combo option was set at $3.50 and the specialty option was $4.40. This was done to build participation.

“Instead of differentiating, we will have the same price across the board,” McDaniel said. “It doesn’t matter what students grab, we want them to participate in our lunch program.”

McDaniel said there was a 65% participation rate during the free lunch waiver, which is “significantly higher” than before the pandemic. With the waiver going away, McDaniel anticipates lunch participation going down.

However, he believes it will remain higher than before the pandemic. This is because of their new Food Service Director, Tracy Sudik.

McDaniel said Sudik came in ready to adapt to student needs. He gave high remarks on her desire for student feedback and how she curated the menu accordingly.

“She would seek student feedback to see how they liked meals,” McDaniel said. “This helped her create the menu.”

The board took action to approve these new prices at their June 20 meeting along with the resolution to get a designated student resource officer.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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