Steamboat Springs In an effort to pay for the food and to make the district’s lunch program self-supporting, lunch prices at Steamboat Springs High and Middle schools are going up.
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During a presentation at Monday’s Steamboat Springs School Board meeting, Nutritional Services Director Max Huppert said prices would increase for the 2010-11 school year to $4 from $3 at the high school and to $3.50 from $3 at the middle school.
Huppert, entering his third year with the district, started preparing school lunches from scratch last year to provide higher quality and healthier choices to students. It allowed him to move away from processed foods.
“We want to provide nutrient-rich meals with diverse ingredients, but with school food service, we have to make sure the kids will eat it, the feds will allow it and we can afford it,” he told the School Board.
The school district’s lunch program is an enterprise fund, which means what it charges students should pay for food and labor costs. But it doesn’t always work that way. The district’s general fund has subsidized the lunch program several times during previous years.
Huppert said Tuesday that two years ago the lunch program paid for itself, but it missed the mark last year. He attributed that to an increased number of students who received lunches for free or at a reduced cost through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program.
Last year in Steamboat, the number of students participating in the program increased 30 percent, to 215 from 165, according to statistics provided by the district as of the Oct. 1 student count.
Students can apply for eligibility for the program throughout the school year. The district is reimbursed $2.69 by the federal government for each meal it provides for free. The discounted lunches cost students 40 cents, which won’t change next year.
Huppert told the School Board that he expects the number of students participating in the free and reduced lunch program to increase again this year.
That was part of the reason School Board member Laura Anderson said this wasn’t the time to raise lunch prices.
“My opinion is we should cut back on it this year,” she said.
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham told the School Board that the district would evaluate the new prices this year and adjust them in the future if necessary. Huppert offered a similar concession Tuesday.
Despite the price increase, Huppert said hitting his budget is dependent on the number of students who choose to eat at school.
He said numbers were down overall last school year, mostly at the middle school. He said the high school numbers always are low because juniors and seniors are allowed to leave at lunch and the students who do stay are more interested in getting a quick bite during the all-school lunch period so they can socialize with friends.
But Huppert did say the number of lunches sold at Soda Creek Elementary School increased because the school moved to a six-lunch schedule. He’s hoping for a similar outcome this year at Strawberry Park Elementary School, which is transitioning to the same schedule.
Huppert said most of his work to incorporate more high-quality and healthy choices is directed toward elementary and middle school students.
“We’re definitely focusing more on the elementary level to get them started at an early age, to get them started on a healthier lifestyle,” he said.
For next year, Huppert said he used about $40,000, three years of his annual equipment budget, to buy new equipment for the schools that he said will help him prepare better food.
Huppert said students at both elementary schools every day this year will choose among a hot entrée; a sandwich with homemade breads they make from a deli bar that includes meats and high-end cheeses and veggies; and a salad bar with as many as 30 items, including fresh salmon some days and homemade dressings.
At the middle schools, students can choose among a hot entrée (the same as the elementary schools’); deli bar; salad bar; soup during winter; and menu items prepared on a new griddle such as hamburgers, bison hot dogs and stir fry.
Huppert said the griddle would be in view of the students when they walk into the cafeteria so they can see what’s prepared, smell it and know it’s fresh. Huppert also said he would serve Asian, Latin American and Mediterranean dishes he learned to prepare this summer during a class at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif.
At the high school, students choose daily among pizza, hamburgers, hot and cold sandwiches, two hot entrees, salads and fruit.
At all schools, the students can choose to drink milk or juice with their lunches. The high school also offers flavored waters.
Huppert said given the economy, he thought about not raising pricing this year. But he talked it over with his staff and said they agreed that in addition to meeting food costs and making the lunch program self-supporting, the higher price was fair based on the quality of the food and the size portions students receive.
It’s a challenge to provide better food and one he doesn’t have much control over.
“The state and White House are all pushing for high-quality things, but they’re not giving any money to do it,” Huppert said.