McGuire Enterprise

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COLUMBIA - It's still summer for some Mid-Missouri students, at least for a couple more days, but nutrition services at local public schools are already preparing to meet new USDA-regulated meal changes and that means higher meal prices for families.

The USDA, which funds the National School Lunch Program in all public schools across the country, recently released a new set of government guidelines based on nutrition recommendations. These meal alterations are meant to make kids healthier, but will also hike up meal prices.

"As fuel prices go up and the requirements for fruits and vegetables, those are the most expensive things you can find at the grocery store," said Laina Fullum, Director of Nutrition Services for Columbia Public Schools.

Columbia Public Schools will raise their prices by 10 cents. Meals will now cost $2.25 for students in grades K-5, and $2.50 for students in grades 6-12. Jefferson City Public Schools will also raise prices by 10 cent: $2.30 for elementary school, and $2.40 per meal for middle and high school.

"That's coming from the USDA, whether we want to increase it or not, we have to," said Terri Ferguson, Food Service Director for Jefferson City Public Schools.

The price of school meals also depends on the amount of kids who receive free and reduced price lunches.

"By regulation, we have to have a certain price point based on what we get in reimbursement for free meals and reduced meals, so basically if we aren't getting the equivalent in a paid lunch, we are required to raise our prices," said Fullum.

According to Ferguson, more than half of students in Jefferson City qualify for free or reduced lunch.

So what's been the reaction from parents regarding the price hike?

"People are struggling to pay their bills, that's a big bill for them because the kids eat here everyday, so it adds up," said Ferguson. She then added, "If the kids would just take their full meal and take advantage of it, they really are getting a good deal."

The recent drought could also have massive reverberations on food prices.

"It's going to hit later than you think, but it will linger longer than you think," said Fullum.

Here are some changes Columbia Public Schools will be making to their lunch menu: 

-1 cup of fruit daily 

-3/4-1 cup of vegetables daily

-1/2 of all whole grains offered in schools must be 51 percent whole grain for the next 2 years; 100 percent whole grain in three years and beyond.

-2 oz. of lean protein like fish or poultry everyday.

-Low and fat-free flavored and unflavored milk containing no high fructose corn syrup.

These changes are meant to target childhood obesity and promote healthy nutrition habits.

"I think it's a look at childhood obesity, it's one big changing factor because there is also a big change in calories. The other thing is studies have continued about the American diet, and they have noticed that there are components missing in the American diet," said Fullum.

In addition to more fruits and vegetables, new calorie minimums and maximums will be set: 350-600 calories for breakfast, and 550-850 calories for lunch.