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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rising Food Prices and Free Lunch Programs

I think by now, we've all noticed the increase in food prices. I hadn’t realized just how much it affected me until I continually struggled to meet my monthly food budget, and I just didn’t feel like I was buying any “extras,” things that the budget normally had at least a little room for.

I thought about the effect this would have on the restaurant industry, especially following the discussions of rice hoarding. I figured it would mean an increase in prices when dining out. I can’t say that’s unexpected or unfair – these places need to stay in business.

I have to admit though, I hadn’t thought about how it would affect school lunch programs. Both public and private schools have lunch programs subsidized by the government, but until I read this article, I didn’t think about the fact that while the subsidy wouldn’t change, the schools would be paying more for food. When you’re feeding that many people, you really start to feel the pinch. Creating school lunches that meet federal nutrition standards and still stay within a very tight budget has to be a challenge. And it doesn’t seem like it’s a challenge that will ease up anytime soon.

If food prices continue to rise, should the government increase the subsidy amounts to the schools to keep them in the red? Should prices for school lunches be passed onto the students, as they would be in a restaurant? Maybe a combination of the two? But what about the kids who are part of a free lunch (and oftentimes, free breakfast) program? Unfortunately, if asked to pay, a lot of those kids would just end up going without. Clearly, that isn’t a solution.

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