School Lunch Costs: What the Kiwi Are They Talking About?

April 21, 2015
Lindsey Haynes-Maslow
Former contributor

Last week, Congress hosted the first of several hearings about the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization act. This act includes the National School Lunch Program, which is reauthorized every five years. In 2010, a bipartisan Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA)—which brought nutrition standards for schools into accord with federal dietary guidelines. As implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the law also requires students to take at least 1/2 cup of fruits and vegetables.

By Bob Nichols, U.S. Department of Agriculture (20111019-FNS-RBN-1642)

Photo: Bob Nichols, U.S. Department of Agriculture (20111019-FNS-RBN-1642)

Studies have shown that children are eating healthier and throwing away less because of HHFKA, but some stakeholders are lobbying Congress to roll back key provisions. The School Nutrition Association (SNA), a professional organization representing more than 55,000 school food professionals, once supported the HHFKA but now says the fruit and vegetable requirement is too onerous.

During last week’s hearing, Representative Robert Scott (D-VA) asked SNA President Julia Bauscher if nutritious food cost more (approximately 51 minutes into the hearing). Ms. Bauscher’s response:

“It can cost more. Especially the cost around fruits and vegetables. A one-half cup serving of kiwi—which is one of my students’ favorite fruits—is currently 80 cents. Therefore I have to limit how much I offer. I have instructed my managers to continue purchasing kiwi—but to only include a slice of it in a fruit cup that contains other, less expensive fruit.”

I love kiwis too, so naturally I empathized with Ms. Bauscher’s students. However, I thought her price quote sounded a little high. So I did some fact checking. One medium kiwi is roughly equivalent to ½ cup, and a 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture report shows that the average price of ½ cup kiwi was 52 cents.

kiwi2

Having just moved from one of the top 10 agricultural-producing states in the country (North Carolina) to one of the most expensive cities in the country, I have done my share of price shopping. But I also called around to find some current price estimates. Harris Teeter has them on sale for 50 cents each, and a Whole Foods Market located in downtown Washington DC has organic kiwis for 79 cents each. Keep in mind these are retail prices, not the wholesale prices that larger buyers, such as schools, are paying.

Is SNA doing its homework or are they actually looking for reasons not to serve kids more fruits and vegetables?