Wallingford School Board Will Consider Lowering 'Premium' Lunch Prices Tonight

An effort to keep the cafeteria budget in the black backfired when new federal guidelines resulted in smaller portion sizes. The board will discuss the item at a public meeting tonight.

The New Year is expected to bring lower prices to students who choose premium lunches — this, following a unanimous vote last week by the Board of Education Operations Committee to lower their costs. 

The full board is expected to consider lowering the prices at its board meeting tonight. 

Premium meals, which are offered at the middle schools and high schools, presently cost $3.75. The reduced prices for the premium lunches would drop to $2.35 at the high school and to $2.25 at the middle school. These are the prices students presently pay for regular lunches.

The school district decided to raise the price of a premium lunch earlier this year in response to cafeteria costs, unaware that new federal guidelines would mandate a reduction in the portion size.

With students paying more for less, sales of the five most popular meals that were offered each day as “premium” plummeted.

“When we were looking at ways to try to bring us close to a profitable bottom line, the idea was presented that we could highlight the more popular meal choices and increase the prices,” said BOE member Kathy Castelli, who served on a subcommittee that looked into the cafeteria's budget over the summer. 

“We were unaware the federal government was going to mandate a decrease in portion size,” she said.

Castelli, who said the decrease in portion size might result from the nationwide concern over obesity, noted that the school district had self-funded its cafeteria program for 17 years.

“The program runs itself,” she said.

Castelli described the district as “ahead of the curve” with regard to satisfying federal guidelines on healthy foods. “We introduced whole grains... Our grains are all nutritionally sound.”

She conceded the nutritional guidelines the government announced this summer created a more restrictive environment. For instance, she said the district can only serve half a cup of a starchy vegetable such as corn or peas one time in the course of an entire week.                                     

But with students asked to pay more for less, Castelli said, “Kids aren’t buying them. They just bring their lunch instead. That’s what we’re faced with now.”

Reviewing the whole grains and salad on the school menu today, Castelli conceded there was only so much the school district could do to ensure students had a healthy diet.

“If students are getting whole grains only at school, that’s [difficult],” she said.


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