The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

School Lunch Prices: Too Hot, Too Cold, or Just Right?

A Special Investigative Report
Students sit around a lunch table conversing, eating and scrolling on their phones.
Morgan Warner-Mackey
Students sit around a lunch table conversing, eating and scrolling on their phones.

Welcome to the Niles West lunch room, otherwise known as the cafe. Here, students sit, chat, eat and wait in lines trailing out of the food court. There, a variety of food is available for students and faculty to purchase.  Recently, both students and the school board have raised concerns over the prices of food items, warranting a closer look at the costs that inform prices.

District 219 outsources food services with QuestFoods Management Services. The district first contracted QuestFoods in 2020. As outlined in the contract, both the district and Quest agree on the price of all items sold. Quest does reserve the right to raise the prices of any items offered. As QuestFoods Management Services is a for-profit company, they do make a profit from the agreement.

A spokesman for Quest, Mark Hannen, explained that prices are calculated according to food costs, labor costs, cleaning supplies and marketing. An additional percentage is added for profit.

“The average profit margin usually falls between three and five percent,” Hannen said.

The National School Lunch Program is a voluntary program sponsored by the United States government that reimburses school districts for money spent on those who qualify and consume free and reduced lunch. However, according to Assistant Superintendent for Business, Tim Neubauer, the district does not participate in the National School Lunch Program.

“We can make up for the reimbursement provided by the federal government by offering food that the kids are more likely to eat. The federal government had very high restrictions on the content of the food. Students don’t like it. That’s why you see a lot of high schools where students have a choice, they’re off of the School Lunch Program so that they can provide food that maybe isn’t as quite strictly healthy as the National School Lunch Program dictates,” Neubauer said.

Neubauer explained that the district loses money when offering free and reduced lunch because the district does not receive a reimbursement from the federal government.

“[District 219] takes a loss. We don’t want to make money off of the kids. We control the losses [because] we are able to sell more than what we would have if we were under the National School Lunch Program. It helps offset what we would be getting from federal reimbursement,” Neubauer said.

The district also outsources specialty items including Halal and Kosher foods. Specifically with students who keep Kosher, foods need to be handled and produced in a separate facility.

“Kosher & Halal items do cost more to bring in but currently we have not raised the price for anything and have incurred the extra cost ourselves,” Chef Manager Pete Calvetti said.

Payments for student food services are able to be made on a Campus Parent or Campus Student portal. Payments are able to be made using a credit or debit card as well as an eCheck to provide money to an account instantly. Students and faculty also have the option of bringing cash to the register in the cafeteria to check out.

District 219 Board Member Amber Wood expressed her concern over lunch prices as well as the amount and quality of food a person may receive if they receive free or reduced lunch or purchase lunch for full price.

“When a fettuccine alfredo and a Gatorade cost ten dollars, that’s concerning,” Wood said.

Students, including sophomore Nicole Lehman, have complained about the prices of food offered in the cafeteria often comparing them to restaurant prices.

“I do not think lunches are priced reasonably because you can get the same type of food at restaurants for less. Some days I had to go without food because my balance was in the negatives and I wasn’t allowed to buy anything, which only happened because of the high costs,” Lehman said.

Complaints typically are handled by Assistant Principal Steve Parnther and Calvetti. These complaints range from pricing issues to issues with the quality of food.

“My staff & I will handle any issues right away. We have introduced QR codes to post comments, compliments and feedback that I can address immediately,” Calvetti said.

According to Calvetti, the most popular items offered in the cafeteria are the daily specials specifically the wings as well as the chicken and shrimp alfredo. These daily specials cost $6.00.

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