Diner’s Journal writes that the proposed increase in federal spending on school lunches disappointed many advocates, who had hoped for a steeper rise in funding. By itself, the increase won’t allow schools to change their menus drastically:
Quick calculations show that at best, the president’s plan might offer less than 20 cents more per school lunch.
Schools can still improve the meals they serve, but they’ll have to find other ways to pay for better food. Schools might raise money specifically for their cafeterias, or they could divert resources from things they’ve been paying for that are less important than lunch. Some schools have already succeeded; this charter school, for one, spends a few dollars more on each student’s lunch than the typical public school. The Maplewood–Richmond Heights School District is another example of a school that changed its lunch offerings without federal help. The district was able to add fresh produce to its meals using a grant from a nonprofit organization.
Not every district needs to transform its cafeteria food. In some districts, the lunches aren’t great, but students live in households that can afford to send bag lunches if they choose. Other districts may decide that something else is holding back student achievement and that all resources should be focused on solving that problem before any additional money is diverted to making lunches tastier.
Districts that do want to spend more on food should accept the fact that they won’t receive unlimited appropriations from the federal government. They need to be frugal, and to buy the food they want at the cheapest price. They need to look for foods that are both nutritious and inexpensive. They can’t afford to squander money on pricey fads like “local” or “sustainable” food.