Pickerington students will pay a little more for lunch at school in 2014-15.

Pickerington students will pay a little more for lunch at school in 2014-15.

District officials say they're trying to keep pace with the increased costs of healthier meals.

Lunch prices for Pickerington Local School District students in grades K-4 will go up next school year from $2.25 per meal to $2.35.

Likewise, lunches will increase from $2.50 to $2.65 for students in middle through high school.

According to District Food Services Director Judy Riley, the increased costs are an attempt to keep the district's food costs -- including expenses for food service staff and equipment -- self-sufficient so they aren't supplemented by school operating funds.

Moreover, she said, higher prices are designed to offset ever-rising food costs, particularly those associated with federal government mandates to provide healthier options for students.

"It's covering the costs of the healthier foods we're serving," Riley said. "That's definitely more costly for us."

Riley said the Healthy Hunger Kids Act of 2010 required districts to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as lower-sodium and whole-grain foods.

"Everything has to be 100 percent whole grain," she said. "Last year, it was just 50 percent.

"Juices and baked snacks also have to be lower calorie."

Despite the price increases, the district will continue to provide free and reduced lunches to students who qualify.

Riley said breakfast will be provided in nine of the district's school buildings for $1.50, the same price as last year's breakfast meals.

The coming school year will mark the second consecutive in which lunch prices have risen.

Last year, the prices were increased from $2 to$2.25 for K-4 and $2.25 to $2.50 for students in middle and high school.

However, Riley said other central Ohio districts are charging more.

According to information provided by Riley, elementary lunch prices at other central Ohio districts range from $2.25 in the Olentangy Local School District to $2.75 in the Worthington district.

K-4 students in the Canal Winchester school district pay $2.30 for lunch, whereas those in the Bloom-Carroll, Groveport-Madison, Hilliard, Licking Heights, New Albany, Southwest Licking and Westerville all pay $2.50.

The Dublin and Gahanna school districts recently raised their K-4 lunch prices to $2.55, according to the information Riley provided.

Prices for central Ohio middle and high school lunches range from $2.25 in Lancaster, to $3 in Worthington, the data showed.

"We were still well below what other school districts charge," Riley said. "We're still below or well in line."

According to information from the Pickerington Treasurer's Office, the district spent approximately $4.04 million on food service in 2013-14, including kitchen staff salaries and benefits, as well as equipment.

Those costs were offset by approximately $4.14 million the district took in in cafeteria sales, as well as federal and state subsidies.