Lunches from Home

School Lunch Prices by Region as Compared to the Cost of Lunches from Home

Alice Jo Rainville, PhD, RD, CHE, SFNS, Human Nutrition, School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI. Purpose/Objective

The purpose of this study was to compare the prices charged for elementary, middle, and high school reimbursable school lunches (RSL), by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) region. Then, the RSL prices for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin were compared to the cost of lunches students brought with them from home (LFH).


The school district lunch prices were collected by E-mail and categorized by USDA regions. Prices for single-serving lunch components were collected from six supermarkets in Michigan and the mean for each item was calculated. The components were combined in different ways to fit the USDA calorie levels for elementary lunches (664 kcal) and middle and high school lunches (825 kcal).


Using ANOVA, elementary, middle, and high school RSL prices were significantly different by region (n=1245, n=1181, and n=1130, respectively). For elementary, middle, and high schools, Southeast region prices were the lowest and Midwest prices were the highest. The mean Midwestern elementary RSL price (n=158) was $1.70 (±.31), while LFH (n=20) averaged $3.10 (±.77). Midwest middle school RSL prices (n=157) were $1.92 (±.37), while LFH (n=18) prices averaged $3.43 (±.63). The mean Midwestern high school RSL price (n=157) was $1.95 (±.36), with LFH (n=18) averaging $3.43 (±.63). These differences were significant (p < .0001).

School lunches have been shown to be nutritionally superior to lunches brought from home, and this cost comparison has shown that school lunches are significantly less expensive than caloric-equivalent lunches from home. Foodservice personnel can use these results to document the cost savings of school lunches to students, parents, and school administrators.