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School Lunch Prices to Increase for Overseas Military Kids: Pentagon

Kids getting school lunch

School lunch prices will go up for military kids stationed overseas who attend Defense Department schools, officials announced Wednesday.

The lunches will increase $0.10 a meal for elementary students to $2.50, and $0.20 a meal for secondary students to $2.75 for the 2016-17 school year, officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) said in a release.

Families who are part of the free and reduced price meal program aren't affected by the price increase. The price of reduced meals will remain at $0.40.

Meals at Defense Department schools are provided by the Navy Exchange (NEX), AAFES, Marine Corps Community services or a contractor, depending on the base.

The Exchanges provide the meals at-cost, and are required by law to raise their rates to a level comparable with the US Department Agriculture's (USDA) school lunch reimbursement rates, AAFES officials said. Although the USDA rates typically rise slightly each year, DoDEA schools have not raised the OCONUS school lunch rates since 2012.

3 Things to Know: School Lunch Price Bump

The change impacts all overseas locations except Guam, officials said

The increase, which totals about $20 for elementary and $35 for secondary students per school year, has been received by some parents as excessive. The quality and quantity of food their children receive through the program, they said, makes it not worth it with or without the price bump.

"I don't really care about the price increase," said Leigh Wanczowski, an Army wife stationed in Germany with two elementary school students. "But it will motivate me to disregard convenience. It was already an issue for our family last year when my kids complained about being hungry or not being able to stomach a 'fish' stick."

Wanczowski said the portions are small, her children don't like the food and she has been dissatisfied with the ingredients. She said she can pack them a healthy lunch with larger portions for about the same amount as it would cost her to buy them school lunches every day.

"Some days I saw the main entree in their lunch to be bread, a transparently slim slice of poor-quality lunch meat, and a packet of mustard," she said. "Certainly I can provide that for the same price, and maybe even add lettuce and cheese."

About 45,000 students were enrolled in OCONUS DoDEA schools as of late this month. Base commanders both OCONUS and stateside choose with to contract for the school lunches, officials said.

In the 2014 to 2015 school year, AAFES served about 19,000 school lunches per day in 75 cafeterias, while the Navy Exchange served 500,881 school lunches in 16 locations during the 2015 to 2016 school year. Marine Corps Community Services supplies lunches only at Iwakuni, Japan, and did not have statistics available.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz.

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