KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Parents and students will notice a change in the cost of Knox County school lunch this year. Prices are going up by a quarter.
The price went from $2.25 to $2.50 in elementary schools and from $2.50 to $2.75 in middle and high schools.
"It was something we were forced to do," said Director of School Nutrition Jon Dickl. With federal mandates to lower the fat, calories, sodium and sugar in school lunches, it's no surprise the price is increasing.
But that's not why the school system is charging more per meal this year.
"The main reason why the meal prices have gone up is that part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act required us to do what's called equity in school lunch pricing," Dickl explained.
The school lunch price had to closely match what the federal government reimburses for students who qualify for free lunch, which is $2.77.
But Knox County didn't have to raise the price the full 25 cents this year. "One of the problems with doing it a little bit at a time is every time we raise meal prices, it causes problems with our participation," Dickl said. "Our participation in the program drops every time. So our thought was get it out of the way."
Even though the push for a healthy school lunch isn't behind the increase, the extra $300,000 generated will go a long way toward feeding those improvements and new kitchen equipment going into many Knox County schools.
Several high schools are slated to get cafeteria makeovers. The idea is to set them up more like mall food courts with several serving stations.
Dickl says that will get more kids to buy a school lunch, cut down on wait times in line and give students more time to eat.
The school system is also going more green. "Our lunch trays this year, our disposable lunch trays, are 40% post-consumer recycled," Dickl said. "Our cups are going to be made from a plastic that's going to be made from corn."
The school nutrition program operates solely on federal and state reimbursements and money generated from the sale of school lunches. It also returns a portion of its funds to the school system for utilities and other expenses it incurs.
If they chose not to raise the school lunch price this year, Knox County Schools would have had to pay the federal government the difference. Dickl added that they don't expect to have to raise meal prices again for at least two to three years.