UTAH (ABC4) – With inflation increasing prices, school districts are trying to keep school lunches affordable.  

For the past two years, every student received lunch for free under the CARES Act. Now lunch costs have returned, ranging from prices of less than a dollar to a few dollars.

But school districts across Utah are making sure kids don’t have to worry about getting a meal. 

“It’s important for all kids to have access to those really fun and nutritious menu items that we serve for both breakfast and lunch,” said Jeff Haney, spokesperson for Canyons School District.

Despite inflation increasing food costs, many Utah school districts said they didn’t increase the price of school meals. 

“We understand families have been hit hard not only by the pandemic but by inflation,” Haney said. 

School meals are no longer free under the CARES Act. Instead, parents must apply for free and reduced meals. In order to keep prices low, school districts said they need to cut the cost of things here and there. 

Jordan School District said they still have a wide menu with old and new favorites, but they’ve had to pull some options. 

“A lot of it happened naturally where maybe a beef producer would make 11 different beef patties for us to choose from, where they skimmed their line down to maybe five or six,” said Katie Bastian, Director of Nutrition Services at Jordan School District.

Canyons School District has changed how students pay for lunch in order to decrease the number of employees they need to staff their cafeterias. 

“We were having a hard time finding people to be our lunch clerks, but we also didn’t want to increase the prices so the tradeoff there is we have moved to the online payment system,” said Haney.

A new Brigham Young University (BYU) study found that students who enjoy lunchtime are more likely to feel a sense of belonging at school, which correlates with better grades and mental health. 

Schools say they’re adamant about making lunchtime a good experience for kids and not something students have to worry about. 

“We want students’ lunch period to be the best part of their day,” said Bastian.

Schools are encouraging parents to apply for free and reduced lunch. Parents can apply at any point during the year if their financial situation changes.