Eye on Education

Schools Offer Lunch Discounts for Students Selecting Fruits, Vegetables

Richard North / Flickr

New federal school meal rules taking effect this year require schools to serve fruits and vegetables at lunch every day, and more of them.

But it can be tough to sell kids on heaping servings of fruits and vegetables.

So some schools are effectively paying students to include fruits and vegetables on their lunch trays.

The Hilliard schools near Columbus will charge students 50 cents less if they take a fruit or vegetable along with their main entree and milk. The change is intended to “promote the sale of qualifying meals, and to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables,” the district says.

And in Hilliard and other districts, students receiving free or reduced-price meals will have to take a fruit and vegetable. If they don’t, they’ll be charged full price.

School Nutrition Association spokesperson Diane Pratt-Heavner says it makes sense that districts are charging a premium for passing on fruits and vegetables. The new school lunch rules say that in order for a school district to receive federal reimbursement for a meal, the student must leave the cafeteria line with either a fruit or a vegetable on his or her tray.

In the past, the items on a child’s tray didn’t necessarily have to include a fruit or vegetable for the meal to be reimbursed by the feds.

The reimbursement for a free lunch is $2.86 and the reimbursement for a full-price lunch is around 30 cents. The food for a school lunch costs around $1, so for many districts, those reimbursements can be important.

“They operate on a very tight budget and they can’t afford not to take the reimbursement,” Pratt-Heavner says. And ensuring everyone’s meal looks similar helps avoid singling out children receiving free or reduced-price lunch, she says.

But that doesn’t mean kids have to actually eat those fruits and vegetables. They just have to put them on their trays.

In other school lunch news, the USDA has ruled that schools can now serve smoothies to meet requirements about dairy and fruit servings. The USDA suggests one smoothie a day is enough: Serving smoothies for both breakfast and lunch is not recommended.


  • SD Hayes

    Then these schools are NOT following procedure. The students are required to pick up 3 components and ONE of these must be a fruit or a veggie. SIMPLE. I do not see how they can charge different prices and be a part of the school lunch program. Someone needs to investigate.

  • MJ

    I read this article and had the very same thoughts that SD had! Something is wrong with this picture in the Hilliard schools! Didn’t sound like anything I have heard in all of the classes I went to this summer!!

  • LYaden

    As a parent I would tell my child to get it whether he was going to eat it or not to save us money. Even though I was not reared to waste and have not reared him to be wasteful. Seems like a senseless way to handle the situation.

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