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as reported from survey data from SFAs for the school year 2005–2006. Food prices have changed since that time (see the section “Changes in Food Prices” later in this chapter). These price changes certainly affect the level of costs reported above. Importantly, changes in the relative importance of food items that occur through the menu modifications also affect the estimated changes in food costs and hence the committee’s estimates of the percentage changes. The effect of changes in food prices is discussed in the next section.


Many factors affect the price of school meals. Some directly affect the cost of food. Others relate to the food service operation. Several of these factors are discussed briefly below.

Other Factors Affecting the Cost of Food in School Meals

Food purchase practices have a major impact on the cost of food. The Phase I report (IOM, 2008) provides brief summaries of relevant findings from cost studies (USDA/FNS, 2008f) and a school food purchasing study (USDA/FNS, 1998b), along with the websites that can be accessed to obtain further information. At a minimum, procurement and purchasing regulations must conform to federal regulations found at 7 CFR 3016.36, but they are determined at the state level, and they vary considerably from state to state.

The School Cost Environment

School Food Authorities’ (SFAs’) food costs vary widely because of many factors, including

  • Methods the state uses to manage U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)5 foods (and also the amount a school district receives in USDA food values, which depends on participation the year prior);

  • Purchasing rules of the state or district;

  • Geographical differences that govern the availability of fresh produce, dairy products, and grain products;

  • Location in metropolitan or rural area;

  • Bid pricing and purchasing power;

  • Quality of the bid specification;

  • Distributor costs, district and distributor locations;


USDA foods are known familiarly as commodity foods.

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