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The lunch crunch

By Denebola
Published: September 2008

By Sidrah Baloch

For some Newton South students, paying for school lunch is an afterthought. For others, the price can pose a problem for students in need of a healthy and filling lunch at school.

The Newton Public School system is devoted to providing nutritious meals for elementary, middle, and high school students in order to ensure that they are alert, well-nourished, and ready to take full advantage of their educational experience.

For this reason, the Newton Public Schools Food Service Department offers free and reduced price breakfasts and lunches as an option for families who are unable to afford full price meals.

Qualification for the free and reduced lunch program is based on information that families supply to the Food Service Department for review, including total household income, number of household members, and whether or not the family receives food stamps.

According to Food Service Director Rob Clickstein, 9.5 to 10 percent of students in the Newton Public School system get free meals or meals at a reduced price of $0.40 as mandated by the federal government.

Newton South’s full price lunch is among the highest meal rates in Massachusetts, and many students feel that $3.50 is too much to pay for a single meal.

“I think the one-size-fits-all price is kind of unfair, junior Dave Paddock said. “The food choices they have are really unbalanced when it comes to value.

Sophomore Campbell Rogers agrees. “I think school lunches are oddly priced because [...] although a sub and a drink together are rightfully $3.50, [...] a single slice of pizza costs the same amount.

“$3.50 for a slice of pizza, not including cookies or anything else, [...] adds up, junior Luke Voss-Kernan said.

What most students don’t realize, however, is that the Food Service Department is required to serve five meal components–protein, grain, fruit, vegetables, and milk–of which students must choose a minimum of three. So while a slice of pizza and a bottle of milk does satisfy three of the five components (protein, grain, and milk), the $3.50 students are paying is supposed   to cover the cost of an additional two components.

“Students don’t realize what a lunch is, Clickstein said, “When kids just grab a piece of pizza and a milk, that’s not worth it.

Clickstein also pointed out that meal prices in the Newton public schools have remained stable despite the recent increase in food prices, unlike 95 percent of schools nationwide that were forced to raise the price of school lunches in recent years.

Another aspect of the food service program that many students are unaware of is the fact that the program is reimbursed about $500,000 per school year based on the number of meals that are sold.

The program receives government commodities such as deli turkey, canned fruits, and hamburger meat at a reduced cost based on district-wide participation rate.

“The more kids that participate [in the school lunch program], the more commodities we get, said Clickstein. Newton South’s average participation rate for the 2007/2008 school year was 28 percent.

The Food Service Department plans to send a brochure to all families of Newton Public School students in mid-October to explain how the food program works.

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