Challenges Facing Public School Lunch Programs

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When comparing the lunches offered by the typical public school with the ones offered by the typical private school, public school parents might be a bit dismayed by what their children are eating. Seeing television shows and reading articles about how chefs can whip up tasty, nutritious fare for just a few dollars per child, per lunch, doesn’t help. Why might a school district persist in serving frozen chicken nuggets and canned corn, when for the same price per child, another school is managing to serve fresh, healthy, appetizing food? Here are some of the challenges faced by public school lunch programs:

Overhead Costs

A chef or a dedicated cafeteria staff might be able to prepare excellent lunches for about $3 per student, and that is the total amount that the government gives a public school to cover one meal for a child receiving free lunch. Sounds perfect, right? You have to remember that this money also must pay for cafeteria staff, utilities, eating utensils and other types of overhead. At a private school, all of that money is generally allocated just toward food, so the two types of schools are dealing with apples and oranges.

Kitchen Equipment

A stroll through the cafeteria kitchen of any public school might be surprising. Some of these kitchens are equipped only for reheating frozen food, with few other options for cooking. Even counter space may be lacking. In fact, in California, over 9 in 10 cafeterias are in need of some type of kitchen equipment. When preparing hundreds or, in larger schools, thousands of lunches on any given day, an inefficient kitchen or one lacking in the necessary equipment or space makes the task nearly impossible without resorting to prepackaged convenience foods.

Inconsistent Numbers

At many private schools, the number of children eating school lunch is consistent from day to day. At the very least, a count is taken several days in advance, such as taking a count (and collecting money, if it’s not included with the tuition) on Fridays for the following week. In a public school, however, the number of children eating school lunch each day varies. Also, there are often problems with collecting money in public schools that private schools do not have. If the cafeteria staff does not know how many students to cook for, it’s not cost-effective to prepare fresh foods, taking the risk that a large portion will go unsold and uneaten.


My Hot Lunchbox makes life easier for the cafeteria staff at schools, camps and businesses. In addition to our regular healthy, peanut-free fare, our approved lunch vendors also have vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free option. Each meal is individually wrapped, so there’s no waste and no contamination, which is extremely important for students or adults with allergies or sensitivities. Please contact us to find out how you can begin receiving lunches from the restaurants your children know and love at your school.