The price of the Deseret News' grocery basket jumped a whopping 9 percent in the past month. If you think that's rough, just wait until you get the bill for school lunch.

Parents and students in Provo and Nebo school districts will pay 25 cents more per lunch ticket. That's a 16 percent hike. Parents in the Granite School District are going to pay an extra 20 cents, or 14 percent more than last school year.

"Some products I'm purchasing have gone up 54 percent," said Jenilee McComb, the Provo District's child-nutrition supervisor. "All food has gone up, all supplies have gone up — even paper products have gone way up."

Since April, the Deseret News has been tracking the price of 15 items, including milk and eggs, a gallon of gas, and pizza and a movie. After posting a decline on July 3, prices were 9.1 percent higher Friday, resulting in a more than 6 percent increase in the past four months.

A few trends are at work. You may have noticed your cereal boxes are shrinking, but not prices. Now, it's happening to diapers.

A big box of Huggies diapers had cost us $29.99 for three months. On Friday, the cost dropped to $21.99. But this was hardly a bargain. The big box had shrunk from 144 diapers to 100.

Some quick math puts the new price at 22 cents per diaper. The old price was just under 21 cents a diaper. So this month, we calculated the cost of 144 diapers at 22 cents apiece, since we couldn't find the same product size. We're paying 5.6 percent more.

A Smith's Marketplace worker said Huggies no longer makes 144-diaper boxes.

We also saw some long-standing prices jump this month. Frozen corn went up 10 cents to $1.29, an 8.4 percent jump. Pizza Hut's large pepperoni pie jumped 50 cents to $13.99, also the first increase seen since we started tracking.

Some of the goods went down. Eggs were down 23 percent last month and overall are down 37 percent since April, when they cost $1.92 a dozen.

Some prices have been volatile. Oreo cookies are up 34 percent this month, but they're down 9.5 percent since April.

Blue jeans went up 52 percent this month, but they're still down 9 percent since April. The Levi's we're watching have been on sale at $19.99 since May, but fell to $13.19 on clearance a month ago.

A gallon of gas remains the most steady climber, up 12 cents a gallon in the past month. That's a 3 percent increase in a month, and a 29 percent increase since April, when a gallon cost a mere $3.20. It's now $4.14 at the Maverik station we're tracking.

Gas is part of the problem in school-lunch costs because districts are paying bigger delivery surcharges to compensate for fuel costs. Provo School District had paid 4 cents a case in the past. Now, it's 17 cents a case, McComb said. Some schools receive 500 cases per week.

"Those pennies add up incredibly high," McComb said.

That adds to the food prices that are climbing. The district's bread costs rose 39 percent between the 2007 fiscal year and this year, to $42,900, excluding dinner rolls, McComb said. The district spent nearly $66,000 more on milk alone between fiscal year 2007 and 2008. The 2008 cost was $281,550, up 31 percent.

The Deseret News grocery bag shows a 7 percent increase in milk prices since April.

All that goes into the price of a meal ticket. Provo and Nebo districts' meal tickets are up 25 percent for breakfast, now at $1.25. The districts are imposing a 14 percent increase for middle- and high-school lunch, now at $2; and a 16 percent increase to the current $1.75 cost of an elementary school lunch.

In the Granite School District, produce is up 18 percent; grains, 16.5 percent; and dairy, 14.5 percent. The price hikes were expected to gobble up a third of revenue, a jump from 27.5 percent of revenue two years ago, the district said in a report issued in defense of the 20-cent lunch-ticket increase to $1.40 for elementary lunch, $1.60 for junior high and $1.70 for high school lunch tickets. Breakfast is up 10 cents to 85 cents per meal for elementary kids, and up 15 cents to $1 for older students.

"Our last school meal price change was four years ago. Since then, our food costs have increased 16 percent," Granite spokesman Randy Ripplinger said. "At the new prices, school meals are still a bargain."

Some school districts are holding the line on lunch prices — for now.

Salt Lake City School District's lunch prices "haven't gone up yet," but the district is watching costs closely, spokesman Jason Olsen said. Lunch now costs $1.35 for elementary students, $1.50 for middle school kids and $1.85 for high-schoolers.

Davis School District lunch prices will remain steady after a handful of 5-cent increases in recent years, said Sandee Miles, nutrition services secretary.

Jordan School District is draining its school-lunch fund balance to keep prices steady, said Marilyn Clayton, district director of nutrition services. Meal-ticket prices are almost certain to go up in fall 2009.

Jordan is part of a cooperative of 12 school districts buying food in bulk to hold costs down. The Utah Cooperative Acquiring Resources Efficiently includes Alpine, Box Elder, Cache, Carbon, Emery, Logan, Jordan, Murray, Ogden, Provo, Sevier and Tooele school districts, and accounts for about half the school lunches served in Utah. Still, buying in bulk can only go so far.

"It has really helped us to hold the line," Clayton said. "But this line is out of control. Prices have gone wild."


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com