School lunch prices increased the most in the Northeast from 1998 to 2012
ERS’s new data product—Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices (QFAFHP)—provides quarterly average prices for meals and products at four types of away-from-home eating places (full-service restaurants, limited-service restaurants, vending machines, and schools) to help support research on demand for food away from home over time and across geographic areas. School lunch prices are the prices paid by students for a full-price lunch averaged across public and private schools educating kindergarteners through 12th graders. In the first quarter of 2012, an average U.S. school lunch cost $2.19, up 60 percent from $1.37 in the first of quarter 1998, but prices and increases over time varied by region. In first quarter 1998, school lunches were most expensive in the West at $1.50 per lunch. By first quarter 2012, school lunches were most expensive in the Northeast at $2.48 per lunch. The Northeast experienced the highest growth over this period (97 percent), while the South experienced the lowest (52 percent). These increases outpaced regional inflation for overall food away from home as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which showed increases ranging from 47 to 49 percent from 1998 to 2012. More information on ERS’s QFAFHP data product can be found in Methodology for the Quarterly Food-Away-From-Home Prices Data, released on May 21, 2014.
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