CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Skyrocketing food prices, record setting gas prices and the continued escalation of inflation is hitting the Charleston County School District’s Nutrition Services Department hard. To keep the menus the same for next year, it will take more than a million dollars to compensate for the increased prices.
Chicken, for example, has nearly doubled.
In 2021, the district paid 80 cents per chicken meal. Now it’s going for around $1.40. That might not sound like a lot, but after factoring in just how many meals they make, the district estimates it will cost $1,080,000 to purchase the same amount of chicken they bought last year.
Milk is another staple that has seen a massive increase. Last year it was 21 cents a carton. In June, they expect it will be 32 cents a carton. The district buys about 5 million cartons a year, making the increase in milk alone $550,000.
On top of the increase in costs, the Nutrition Services team says they’re also anticipating a drop in revenue from the United States Department of Agriculture. The USDA increased the amount of money it reimburses districts per meal to $4.56 to account for the extra meals being served during the pandemic. Over the last two years, all students could eat breakfast and lunch for free, however that’s changing for the upcoming school year.
“Right now, we are getting $4.56 per meal and that was an increase back in January from USDA because it was $3.66, but it’s going to go back to $3.66 after June 30,” said Walter Campbell, executive director of Nutrition Services at CCSD. “So we are going to lose 25 percent of our income.”
Campbell says they’ll get creative to cut costs while maintaining “high quality products.” Campbell says there are some lower quality products out there, but he would rather replace a chicken meal with something else than get lower quality products.
“Our beef items only went up 10%,” Campbell said. “We serve a lot of burgers, but we can still get ground beef and there’s ground beef in our beefaroni and the kids really love our from-scratch-beefaroni. Our taco day is still a great day. Even though beef has gone up 10-11%, it’s still not as high as chicken.”
Students who don’t qualify for free or reduced meals will have to start paying for lunch once again starting next year. Campbell says the price is currently set at $2.25 a meal and they get an additional 41 cents from the USDA for those meals. It will help balance the budget, but it’s still a net loss when compared to the $4.65 they were getting per meal.
Campbell says they see this as a challenge and one they can overcome.
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