Anoka-Hennepin lunch prices continue to rise

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Anoka-Hennepin is once again looking to raise school lunch prices.

Fourth-graders at Eisenhower Elementary School in Coon Rapids enjoy penne pasta with meatballs and stuffed breadsticks at lunch May 16. Earlier this month the School Board heard a proposal to increase lunch prices by five cents next school year.Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Fourth-graders at Eisenhower Elementary School in Coon Rapids enjoy penne pasta with meatballs and stuffed breadsticks at lunch May 16. Earlier this month the School Board heard a proposal to increase lunch prices by five cents next school year. Photo by Olivia Alveshere

During the May 8 School Board meeting, Child Nutrition Director Noah Atlas introduced a proposal to increase lunch prices by five cents next school year, which is less of an increase than he asked for last spring.

One year ago, the School Board voted to increase breakfast and lunch prices by 15 cents at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, but decided to hold off on Atlas’ recommendation to increase meal prices another 10 cents for 2017-2018.

Only lunch prices are proposed to increase this fall. The increase would put an elementary lunch at $2.40 and a secondary lunch at $2.55.

“We’re still offering (lunch) at a lower price than our neighboring school districts,” School Board Chairperson Tom Heidemann said.

Even with the increase, Elk River, Osseo, Mounds View and Spring Lake Park school districts all have higher lunch prices than Anoka-Hennepin. Lunches are at least 15 cents more at the elementary level and 20 cents more at the secondary level, according to data provided by Atlas.

In Anoka-Hennepin, an elementary breakfast costs $1.45, and a secondary breakfast costs $1.60 currently, more on par with neighboring school districts, higher than some.

“We feel our prices for breakfast are where they should be,” Atlas said.

He cited rising food and supply costs, meal quality and requirements, and equipment repairs and replacement as three reasons lunch prices need to increase.

In the last year, costs have risen 2-3 percent, Atlas said.

“We continue to look for more cost-effective supplies,” he said.

The district employs a chef and does anywhere from eight to 10 tastings with students annually to ensure items on the menu are to their liking.

It can be difficult with stringent requirements imposed by the federal government.

One mandate that is tricky to adhere to while keeping food tasty is the imposed limit of 1,420 milligrams of salt per meal, or about 1/2 teaspoon, Atlas said. Salt is naturally occurring in many foods, such as bread and milk.

Few a la carte snacks meet standards set in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, so participation has dropped off, decreasing available funds.

But participation overall is up slightly, even in the face of increasing meal prices, Atlas said.

Nearly 140 days into the current school year, the district had served more than 1.2 million breakfasts and just under 3.5 million lunches, an increase of 121,547 meals from 2015-2016.

“We’re seeing our students use our program, which we like,” Atlas said, calling the numbers positive feedback.

Child Nutrition has completed 16 projects with a price tag greater than $30,000 in the last five years, further depleting the program’s fund balance. These are anything from replacing dishwashers and refrigerators to complete kitchen remodels. Eleven additional projects have been identified.

The School Board will be asked to approve the recommendation in an upcoming consent agenda.

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