COLUMBIA – Kiersa Toll said if her kids were given the choice, she knows they probably would pick Fruit Loops over Cheerios.
One problem with the options students are given for school meals is that healthier items are presented right next to less healthy options, said Toll, who is the vice president of Lee Elementary’s Parent Teacher Association.
The Columbia Board of Education unanimously approved a 35-cent increase of school meal prices for the 2010-2011 academic year during its meeting Monday night, which should help Columbia Public Schools improve such food choices.
The cheapest products come in a can, Superintendent Chris Belcher said. Less-processed, higher-quality foods cost more, he said. Fresh produce requires more preparation, which requires more manpower.
“Half our cost on a meal is labor,” Belcher said during the meeting. There isn’t a lot of money left to plate a balanced meal, he said.
Director of Nutrition Services Laina Fullum had recommended that the board increase meal prices by 25 cents. Belcher suggested the board add an additional 10 cents to that number, increasing prices by a total of 35 cents. The increase could bring an additional $105,000 to the food service program, he said.
Toll said she hoped the increase would result in higher-quality meals.
“If they’re going to raise the prices, it would be nice to start serving better food,” Toll said.
Potatoes are currently listed as a vegetable serving in school meals, Toll said with a laugh as she spoke of the nutritional value of a french fry.
Fullum said the community has asked for many improvements.
“The community wants to see more local produce,” Fullum said.
People have also asked for foods that are less processed and have fewer, more natural ingredients. Fullum said this is something nutrition services is working on.
“We want to keep it kid-friendly,” Fullum said.
In the last few weeks of the school year, a farm-to-school program brought in vegetables such as radishes, onions, and asparagus from a local supplier. Teachers were asked to encourage students to choose these vegetables.
Toll said a problem with those choices was that there were not many kid-friendly options. More education about making healthy choices could help programs like Columbia's be more successful, Toll said.
Fullum said marketing efforts would be made to help healthy foods seem more appealing to students. “Meatless Wednesdays” would be another educational aspect, giving schools the chance to include vegetarian menus and introduce students to different meals.
“In order to make significant changes in the way we serve meals, we need to increase the funds we have to provide this service,” Fullum said.
The 35 cent increase brings the price of student lunches to $2.10 for elementary students, $2.35 for secondary students, and $3.00 for adult lunches.
Students who are eligible for free meals will continue to receive those meals. The price of reduced lunches will not change. Fullum said this is a federally regulated price.
Becky Strawn, president of Midway Elementary’s PTA, said that she is “all for better lunches.” Strawn said she would rather the district have to increase lunches than cut something from the budget.
“Just like any increase, many won’t be happy,” Strawn said of the members of the community.
Fullum said the district cannot predict how many students will buy meals at schools next year. Participation could drop initially because of the changes made, Fullum said. The number of students in the district is expected to rise, which could also increase the number of students purchasing lunches, Fullum said.
Fullum said the number of students who qualify for reduced or free lunches may also grow.
Other things discussed and decided at the Board of Education meeting include:
High school site excavation and utilities bid
The school board unanimously voted to accept Philips Grading of Boonville combination bid of $2,812,000. This bid will use one company for two projects that include site clearing and earth moving and working on site utilities.
Sports Management Plan
By a vote of 4-2, the school board approved a sports management plan that will consolidate solicitation of local businesses by public school representatives. Ines Segert and James Whitt dissented. The school board is expected to seek Kelly Sports Properties to negotiate a contract