Over 30 million lunches and 9.8 million breakfasts are served every day to children in participating American schools through the USDA National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. It is challenging for participating local school food authorities (SFAs) to serve appealing, healthful meals while covering food, labor, and other operating costs with USDA reimbursements. But it may be more difficult for some SFAs than others due to cost differences across locations. Analysis of data from a large national sample reveals that after controlling for differences in SFA characteristics, sharp differences in costs remained among rural, urban, and suburban SFAs and across regions. The highest costs occurred in Mid-Atlantic, suburban SFAs and the lowest cost existed in southwest, urban SFAs. Differences in food costs explained the largest share of this variation.


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