Pay up to eat up at Re-1

By Luke Groskopf Journal staff writer

Classes are back in session Monday after the two-week holiday, and students wanting to purchase breakfast or lunch from their school cafeterias will need to bring along some extra change.

Beginning Monday, meal prices across the board in Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 will increase 50 cents from current levels. For elementary students, this means $1.25 for breakfast and $2 for lunch. Since middle and high school students consume larger portions, their new rates are $1.75 and $2.25.

School faculty, meanwhile, will be charged $1.75 for breakfast and $3 for lunch.

The change does not impact students on free or reduced-meal plans.

With 90 school days remaining until the end of the school year, the increase amounts to $45 dollars - over the course of the semester - for students who buy one meal per day, and $90 for two meals a day.

Food Services Director Sandi Vanhoutean emphasized that the district's prior rates were below the state average and hadn't been adjusted since 2004.

"We were lagging behind. The price of everything - food staples, fuel to transport it, wages - have all risen drastically since then," she said.

For the last few years Re-1 has lost money on its meal program, since expenses consistently outweighed revenue from lunch money and state reimbursement.

The school board opted in September for one large price increase rather than an ongoing series of incremental ones, so parents knew what to expect.

"Hopefully this means we won't have to change prices again for a while," Vanhoutean said.

Recent federal legislation to boost nutrition standards in schools was another contributing factor. A provision in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires school cafeterias to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, which are pricier than frozen, processed foods.

"Vegetables must be served every day at lunch," Vanhoutean said, adding that categories like leafy greens, red-orange vegetables, starches and legumes must be offered at least once each week.

Only Cortez Middle School has a self-serve salad bar at this time, Vanhoutean said, so her staff tries to offer at least two vegetable options for students to choose from.

Stricter standards are part of the national battle to curb childhood obesity, which has tripled since 1980. Approximately 17 percent - or 12.5 million kids - between ages 2-19 are considered obese according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vanhoutean said parents with questions about the price increase can contact her at 565-5157. Those who feel they qualify for free or reduced-price meals can pick up an application form at their school office or cafeteria.

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