Officials at schools, senior centers, soup kitchens and jails in south-central Idaho say rising food prices are forcing them to come up with new strategies to meet budgets while still providing meals.

Susan Henderson, a child nutrition supervisor with the Twin Falls School District, says she's never seen prices rise so fast in the 35 years she's worked for area school districts.

"I have never seen prices rise like this," Henderson told The Times-News. "It usually goes up 2 or 3 percent, but during the last six months things have really increased, and our overall food budget has gone up 12 to 18 percent," she said

Officials in the region say high energy prices, increased demand for food and the declining value of the U.S. dollar are behind the problem.

Leanne Trappen, services director for South Central Community Action Partnership, says it's a double problem for agencies that give out food because they are forced to buy less while demand from people who can't afford to buy their own food is growing.

"Obviously, the cost means we buy less food," Trappen said. "But, we also try to watch where it's going and evaluate our purchases."

She said the number of people coming in is increasing, but some places are showing specific trends. More people in Buhl need food assistance, she said, and there are more senior citizens in Burley asking for help.

"The one in Buhl is really handing out a lot of food," said Trappen, whose organization supplies food to 11 food banks and kitchens in the region. "They are using about as much as we are in Twin Falls."

Twin Falls County commissioners four years ago entered into a contract with a food service company based in Baton Rouge, La., to supply meals to inmates at the Twin Falls County Adult Detention Facility.

ABL Management Inc. provides the jail with two cooks and a food service manager. The company ships the food to the jail at a cost of $1.15 per meal.

"The prices of the meals don't go up during the term of the contract," said Capt. Doug Hughes, administrator of the facility.

Inmates at the jail receive three meals a day that add up to 3,000 calories, meeting the recommendation of the American Correctional Association.

Sharon Hardy-Mills, director of the Golden Heritage Senior Center in Burley, said she's not sure what will happen in the next year with rising food prices.

"It's very stressful and it's scary," said Hardy-Mills. "Sometimes we don't know how we are going to keep everything going."

The center has cut back on its Meals on Wheels delivery schedule, going from five days a week to three days a week.

"At the current prices we will save nearly $3,000 a year in gas," she said.

Other measures include cutting staff hours and organizing fundraisers.