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Kindergartener Antonio Graham walks with his tray to the trash during lunch at McKinley Elementary School on Monday, August 27, 2012.
Kindergartener Antonio Graham walks with his tray to the trash during lunch at McKinley Elementary School on Monday, August 27, 2012.
Kindergartener Antonio Graham walks with his tray to the trash during lunch at McKinley Elementary School on Monday, August 27, 2012. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times )
FARMINGTON &mdash: School lunches are 10 cents more expensive this year at all Farmington schools. The price increase is the first in four years and follows Department of Agriculture mandates to raise prices and comply with new dietary guidelines.

The new guidelines also change lunch menus and are aimed at providing nutrient-dense food options to students. They dramatically increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains required at each meal.

One area school, however, is reporting a drop in the number of students buying school meals.

Annette Delgado, kitchen manager at McKinley Elementary School, noticed a sharp drop in the number of children buying lunch.

"I see it on the production list," she said. "We used to get about 450 (buying). Now it's down to about 350."

She is unsure if the drop is because of the 10-cent increase or because of the menu changes.

Farmington Municipal Schools has increased meal costs just three times since 1995. They rose in 2001 and 2008 because of rising food and transportation costs, but James Barfoot, assistant superintendent of operations at Farmington Municipal Schools, said this round of price increases comes from a USDA mandate.

According to a USDA memo sent to school administrators on Feb. 15, schools charging less than $2.51 in the 2011-2012 school year had to raise their prices by at least 4.18 percent or find non-federal funding sources. Farmington schools were charging $1.75 at elementary schools and $2 at secondary schools. School administrators decided to raise their prices.

"We have to keep raising it until we meet that minimum, but we didn't want to burden families," Barfoot said. "Almost all of the money goes to labor and food costs. We do make some profit, but it all goes back into the food program."

The new dietary guidelines are part of the implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which directed the USDA to update the National School Lunch Program's nutritional standards. An updated set of guidelines, known as a "meal pattern," went in to effect across the nation at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

The new meal pattern increases servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while setting calorie and sodium intake limits.

The USDA provides cash reimbursement to schools for each meal they serve. If a school complies with the updated meal requirements, it will be eligible to receive an additional 6 cents of cash reimbursement, a goal that Farmington Municipal Schools administrators have set for all schools in the district.

"They raised the bar on nutrition, but we're going to jump it," Barfoot said. "We don't intend to fail."