The Monroe Evening News has published its back-to-school section for Monroe County, Mich. Most schools included lunch and breakfast prices in their announcements.

The 2012-13 prices are:

Elementary breakfast

  • Airport: $1.25.
  • Bedford: $1.20.
  • Jefferson: $1.
  • Whiteford: $1.10.
  • Summit Academy in Flat Rock: $1.60.

Elementary lunch

  • Airport: $2.
  • Bedford: $2.25.
  • Dundee: $2.25.
  • Ida: $2.20.
  • Jefferson: $2.
  • Mason: $2.15.
  • Milan: $2.
  • Monroe: $1.75.
  • Summerfield: $2.10.
  • Whiteford: $2.25.
  • Triumph Academy: $2.35.
  • New Bedford Academy: $3.
  • Summit Academy in Flat Rock: $2.75.
  • St. Patrick: $2.

Middle school / high school breakfast

  • Airport: $1.40.
  • Bedford: $1.20.
  • Jefferson: $1.
  • Whiteford: $1.10.

Middle school / high school lunch

  • Airport: $2.60 or $2.85 depending on choice.
  • Bedford: $2.35 or $2.85 depending on choice.
  • Dundee: $2.25 for middle school, $2.50 for high school.
  • Ida: $2.60 for middle school, $2.70 for high school.
  • Jefferson: $2.50.
  • Mason: $2.40 or $2.90, depending on choice.
  • Milan: $2.50.
  • Monroe: $2.30 to $2.65, depending on choice.
  • Summerfield: $2.50.
  • Whiteford: $2.50 to $2.75, depending on choice.

Reduced-price breakfast

  • 30 cents. This is the cost set by the federal school lunch program.

Reduced-price lunches

  • 40 cents. This is the cost set by the federal school lunch program.

If your school wasn’t listed, it didn’t provide the meal price information to the newspaper before the deadline. While there often are late notices sent to the newsroom, there is no specific date when they will be published. The quickest way to get that information will be to look up your school district’s web site or call the school office.

Now about those lunch prices:

The federal government has issued new nutrition guidelines for school lunches. In some cases, this might lead to an increase in the cost. Monroe Public Schools explained in its announcement that they were able to keep the cost of most student lunches the same despite the installation of new convection ovens to cook in a healthier way, although one lunch choice at the secondary schools will go up 15 cents.

The Monroe Evening News plans to have a feature article this fall as to how the rules are working out and whether the kids like the new menus.

But to answer the cost comparison question that many parents have, look up the USDA Cost of Food study.

I teach monthly “thrifty” range on that study as a target grocery budget because it will require some savings tactics to hit. But is not impossible to hit that target, even for families with picky eaters or medical issues. I also refer to the monthly numbers rather than weekly numbers, as that allows for week-to-week variations in supermarket sales or coupon distribution.

On the June 2012 USDA charts, a child ages 6-8 is eating $133.90 worth of food and a boy ages 14-18 is eating $168.50 worth of food.

Are you with me so far?

Good. Now, do the math.

Divide out $133.90 for the first-grader by 30 days in a month, and you find that first-grader is eating the equivalent of $4.46 worth of food in one day.

Since lunch is usually the middle meal of the day in terms of quantity, $4.56 divided by 3 is $1.48 per meal.

Divide out the $168.50 for the high school boy by 30 days in a month, and his daily cost of food is $5.61. Divide that by 3, and his cost for lunch would be $1.87.

So yes. It is possible for a parent to prepare a nutritious lunch cheaper than most of our schools can sell it.

That being said, have you actually tried to do that?

I have.

My daughter attended a preschool that did not have cafeteria service. The parents were required to pack a lunch that met federal school lunch guidelines.

Although a refrigerator and microwave were available, I found the logistics were annoying for home-packed foods and the cost was high for items typically sold as lunch box items. There really was no savings as compared to what I knew school lunch prices would be, and sometimes the cost was more.

Yes, my experience was 20 years ago.

But look up a lunch box math show and tell I did this time last year with some of the convenience foods that are sold as lunch box items. You’ll see that situation hasn’t changed much.

If you are a lunch box fan, or want that as an option on the days your children don’t care for the menus, I have other articles in my packed lunch archives that include tips on lunch containers, tips on organizing your lunch box routine, and linkups to cost studies that other bloggers have done with lunch box items.

A further note: if your family qualifies for reduced-price rather than free lunches, you are making “too much money” to qualify for many other need-based assistance programs. Take the help where you can get it.

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