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Chicken fingers and the price of school lunch

POSTED: May 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The goal of the food service program in Bryan County is to serve nutritious food that students will enjoy and sell at an affordable price. Chicken fingers are our most popular item. Student meals increase over 10 percent when it is on the menu. The actual cost to produce a student lunch is approximately $2.32 averaged per plate. This includes food, labor, and supplies. The federal government reimburses us $2.47 for meals served to students that are eligible for free meals. The reimbursement rate for a paid student meal is 23 cents. There is no reimbursement received for adult meals. How can we sell meals for $1.75 when it costs $2.32 to prepare the meals? The extra funds from free meals and supplemental sales are used to keep the full paid and adult prices lower than actual cost. The percentage of needy children in Bryan County has decreased annually. As this continues and with the ever rising cost of food and gas the price of a school meal will most likely increase. No increase is planned for next school year.

We are very proud of our system participation rate, especially the middle and high schools. The state average is less than 55 precent, ours average 80 percent. Based on the percentage of free and reduced students, our meal prices are some of the lowest in Georgia.

The federal requirements for a reimbursable school meal are:

One serving of high protein item: 1.5 to 2.0 ounces

One Bread or Grain: 1 ounce

One Milk: 4 ounces

Two Fruits or Vegetables: ¾ Cup Total

Bryan County consistently serves more than the minimum requirements.

Back to the chicken fingers: Sometimes we receive complaints that some students get more than others. We buy a very high quality product. If we were to purchase fingers that were uniform in size, it would be a pressed meat product and I don’t think most would like it. The servers try their best to give uniform servings. I agree that three small fingers seem like more than two large portions but weight wise, it is about the same. These fingers cost us 93 cents per serving before cooking. Food service actually loses money on chicken finger day! Extra servings are available for $1 for those that want more of our "deliciously crispy vittles".

By Carole Knight, director of food service for Bryan County schools.

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