May 10, 2022 - News

School lunch prices rising in Des Moines metro

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Several federal nutritional aid programs that Des Moines families have relied on during the pandemic are expected to end this summer.

Why it matters: Without the programs, many families will not only have to return to paying for lunches, but they'll likely be at a higher cost due to increased food prices.

  • Some Des Moines metro school boards have already approved increasing their lunch costs by up to 25 cents per meal, in comparison to the 2019-20 school year.

State of play: Local schools have provided free lunches to students this last school year, thanks to a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that launched to support families nationwide during the pandemic.

  • The extra reimbursement school districts received per meal have helped soften the recent spike in food costs.
  • Pandemic policies also granted schools more flexibility in standards for food nutrition and preparation. Next year, lunches are expected to include more whole grains and less sodium, which may be more expensive.

Zoom in: The West Des Moines School Board has approved a 25-cent increase per lunch meal for the upcoming school year — an amount that won't cover the expected 15-20% rise in expenditures for nutrition, said Willow Kriegel, the district's Nutrition Services director.

  • Johnston expects a 20% increase in food costs and the school board is considering a 5-cent increase for student lunches.
  • Waukee expects a $1.3 million revenue loss next year because of the end of the federal program and a reduction in free and reduced-price student lunches. The board approved increasing lunch by 15-25 cents.
  • Ankeny is considering a 10-cent increase.
  • Des Moines, which has a majority low-income student population, is waiting to see if they'll qualify for reimbursed lunches for the whole district.
  • Urbandale is waiting for USDA guidance on costs.

The bottom line: The school lunch increases shouldn't put too heavy of a dent in families' checkbooks.

  • But for the districts themselves, the overall increase in operating costs, like food, paper supplies and wages, could put them out by millions of dollars.

Go deeper: School districts brace for rising lunch prices

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