Central Texas parents may have to add school meals to the budget this year after COVID-19 funding halts

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 10:31 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Midway ISD is returning back to traditional payment meal structures for school meals as the national COVID-19 relief funding halted.

Midway ISD food service director, Rudy Frett, said parents have not had to pay for lunches since the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

“Since March of 2020, whenever the pandemic happened, we didn’t touch any meal pricing because everybody ate for free,” Frett said.

This saved elementary parents around $550 for breakfast and lunches for the previous two school years.

In July, Midway ISD found out that the district would not be receiving that additional funding from the Texas Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture would not renew for the upcoming school year.

The district could not continue providing free meals for all students.

“As soon as we figured out that meals weren’t going to be free this year, we really were steadfast on getting everybody and letting parents know in the community,” Frett said.

The prices of meals also went up too because the district had not adjusted the price since 2019.

“We didn’t touch any meal pricing because everybody ate for free,” he said. “So, we had to actually increase pricing just due to the products and supplies that we get in currently right now.”

The price for breakfast for the 2019 school year was $1. Now, breakfast costs $1.25.

Because school meals are no longer free for everyone and the prices increased slightly, the district is promoting the Free and Reduced Meals Program options for parents who can apply and might qualify to receive help with paying for their children’s meals.

“Whenever they do fill out the application, we have ten days to get that process within our system,” Frett said. “But, also, with getting into that application process, no kids on our watch would ever go hungry. We make sure that every student gets a meal, and if there needs to be some reimbursement for them switching over from paid to free, we do that as well.”

The program also provides some discounts on camps or activities, internet access or after school care.

Midway ISD said about 30% of students are enrolled in the program.

For people who do not qualify for the program, Frett said he weighed the pros and cons for his own children.

“The options that we provide at school, it’s a variety of options,” he said. “Now, they can pack their lunch from home, but what would it actually be? Could it be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Could it be a Lunchable? Then, we think about the nutrition levels compared to that, compared to what we have within our campuses.”

An elementary school lunch is $2.70. It provides a hot entree, a vegetable, fruit and a source of carb and protein, including a selection of milk options. A Lunchable costs $1.87 at HEB. That provides carb, protein and cheese. However, with an added serving of an apple and orange, it could cost around $3.00.

Frett said so far the district is noticing that students are bringing their lunches from home more, but he said it is too soon to tell if that will continue throughout the school year.