How Colleges Are Getting Creative In Response To Food Inflation

As college students return to their campuses this fall they may be disappointed by the offerings in their student dining halls. Bloomberg reports that many college campuses across the country are changing their menus in response to rising inflation.

Food costs have been rising steadily since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with many staple foods such as eggs and beef lingering above the rest (via Bloomberg).  Food prices have risen by over 13% globally in the last year alone, according to The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. These high prices may be here to stay for some time, as USA Today also suggests.

According to Time, these high prices are also affecting school lunch programs in grade schools. The outlet reports that some districts have had to raise their lunch costs to $5 per meal which is nearly double the cost of the average meal in 2017. Schools are reporting that they are also reworking menus because certain items either cost too much or are unavailable. These problems are made worse by the expiration of a federal pandemic-era program that sponsored free lunches for all school children.

Colleges are getting creative and limiting variety

These same issues are also being dealt with at the college level according to Bloomberg. Many universities are finding new ways to make their dollar stretch without sacrificing the quality of food available to students in dining halls. Some universities have resorted to offering "plant-focused" menus one day a week which they report as typically costing 20% less than meat-forward options. Some have also subbed out beef stews or soups for hamburgers as a way to make meat go further and feed more students. It's also been found that reducing some of the variety helps cut back on food waste and make the most of each item as well.

These problems have also been exaggerated by the fact that schools set their rates for meal plans months in advance, and are unable to adjust them with the rising cost of food (via Bloomberg). College meal plans are already high with U.S. News reporting that some can cost as much as $9,000. Furthermore, these changes may make higher learning more expensive as universities accept thinner margins on one of their revenue streams. CNBC reports that tuition has already risen by as much as 5% this year for some universities.