Cost of School Lunch Program

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Cost of School Lunch Program

Have you thought about cost of school lunch program?  You may have a variety of memories about the school lunch from elementary school to high school.  Some of you have an experience of packing your own lunch and brought it to school every day.  Let’s breakdown the facts about it.


History of School lunch Program

The school lunch program is originated by Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act.  President Harry Truman signed into law and started in 1946 [1].  The background of school lunch program is to provide the affordable and nutritional meals to children.  If you can imagine the environment right after World War II, it’s really appreciative effort.  In 2016, the school lunch program serves meals to 30.4 million students [2] across the country from 1st to 12th graders.  The allocated budget is $13.6 billion [2].  The program provides a fully reimbursed meal and reduced-price meals.  The average price of meal is as follows.


The Cost of School Lunch per Meal [3]

Lunch Breakfast
Elementary $2.48 $1.46
Middle $2.68 $1.53
High $2.74 $1.55


As you noticed, it is much lower than what we spend on our lunch at the restaurant.  In addition, this price is all inclusive meaning it contains cost of food, labor, supplies and other expenses.  Similarly, the cost of breakfast is supported by the school breakfast program, serving 14.6 million students [3], with annual budget of $4.2 billion [3].

The average cost breakdown is as follows.


School Lunch and Breakfast Cost Breakdown (average) [3]


Food 37%
Labor/Benefits 48%
Supplies 5%
Other, including Indirect Costs* 10%
Total 100%

*Indirect costs are paid to the school district for shared expenses such as electricity and custodial services.


The Cost of Ingredient per Meal

Lunch Breakfast
Elementary $0.92 $0.54
Middle $0.99 $0.57
High $1.01 $0.57


Economics of School Lunch Program

The Cost Breakdown

As shown in above the table, the cost of food is only 37% of entire cost and the food actually served costs about a dollar or less for lunch.  It means this budget covers all the ingredients.  As you can see, it’s not a lot and the quality of meal not quite impressive despite the effort of cooks.

While the school lunch costs $2.68 – $2.74, your espresso beverages cost around $3 to $5 and smoothies are around $5 to $9.  Furthermore, the glass of wine costs you around $10 to $15.  Ironically, with the amount you spend on the beverage, you can buy 3 to 15 meals for children.  Next time when you buy these beverages, think about it a little.  These costs add up quickly.  For instance, if you buy a cup of espresso beverage, costs $3, every other day ($15 a month), it is going to be $45 a month or $540 a year.  This is a lot of money.  You can substantially reduce monthly expenses by making your own java.  You can make a difference.  This is an ethical way of nurturing your mind that’ll pay you back.

This is an expense of capitalism.  It’s difficult to accept the fact that the enough resources are not available to our children.  The cost of one bagel is more than what our children eat everyday.  It’s really agonizing that our children is the ones to take the burden.  Our children are our future.  They are the ones will be running our society in the future and you will be taken care of those youth when you retire.  If everyone steps up and takes an initiative, we can make a difference.




  1. USDA “The National School Lunch Program”
  2. USDA Economic Research Service “National School Lunch Program”
  3. School Nutrition Association, “School Meal Trends & Stats”








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