School lunches have been a hot topic in The Great Garden State as of late. At the moment, New Jersey would like to see lunches be free for all students (read more about the 5-year free lunch plan here).

Of course, there was an exception to the rule when we went through the pandemic. During that time, school lunches for New Jersey students became free.

Now that we're out of the pandemic, that luxury is no longer afforded to every individual. The pandemic was a very unique time that required very unique solutions for when kids did return to the classroom.

So until free lunch becomes a reality for all New Jersey students, parents will either have to make sure their children get sent to school with lunch or that their children have enough money to purchase lunch.


It's something that's always been since school lunches aren't free for the vast majority of students in public schools.

With that said, have you ever wondered how much the price of a school lunch has changed over the years? Prices certainly have gone up in pretty much everything, with very few exceptions.

Here are just a few of those items that have gone up, along with, only a couple exceptions of where the price actually went down. School lunch prices are also included.

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Gallery Credit: Erin Vogt

Schoolboy holding plate of lunch in school cafeteria smiling at camera
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School lunch prices - today

A slice of pizza doubled since 2003? Fast food more than doubled? Beef from $1.99 to $8.99 per pound? Ouch!

There's no denying things have gotten crazy expensive when it comes to certain items, especially food. And that change is just as big when it comes to school lunches.

At the elementary school, my kids go to, a regular school lunch is $3.65. That's the price across the board for each day.

And if you wanted an ice cream to go with it, that would be an additional $1.55, making the total purchase $5.20.

(Valueline, ThinkStock)
(Valueline, ThinkStock)

School lunch prices - 30 years ago

Looking 30 years back when I was in elementary school, prices were dramatically lower. When I had to purchase lunch, I remember exactly what the costs were.

For a regular school lunch, I had to pay $1.25. If I wanted to have ice cream, I had to pay an additional $0.35. Altogether, that came to $1.60.

Just looking at those two price points alone shows you how much higher prices have gotten. For a full lunch with an ice cream, you're paying an additional $3.60 in 2024 than you were in 1994.


Prices then vs the future

Of course, that's only one comparison as lunch prices in schools certainly were different prior to and after 1994. Feel free to comment and share how much school lunches were when you went to elementary school.

Hopefully, as we look toward the future, that price tag of $0 will become a reality for all students. There's no reason a good lunch shouldn't be (ice cream, of course, would still be extra).

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The above post reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 Sunday morning host Mike Brant. Any opinions expressed are his own.

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