Higher costs: School canteen vendors seek help

Seven of 10 canteen vendors The Straits Times spoke to welcomed the new moves to introduce healthier meals for students.

However, some hope that more help can be extended to them to cope with higher costs.

A vendor at Northland Secondary School said her electrical bills rose by 20 per cent after switching from deep frying to using the oven.

"We have not been able to raise prices for the past two years since the healthy meal scheme was introduced, and it has been difficult to cover costs," she said.

Prices at Fairfield Methodist School (Secondary) have gone up by about 20 cents as students now receive a piece of fruit with every meal they purchase. But one vendor, who declined to be named, said she spends about $200 a week buying extra fruit, as she often runs out of stocks that the school provides before the end of the day.

"It also takes time and effort to cut the fruit up, and package it individually. Prices have gone up slightly, but it's not enough to cover the costs," she added.

Stall operators at Fairfield Methodist also follow a weekly roster that alternates the types of fruit they provide every day, such as bananas or honeydew.

"Not all students like the fruit and I often find a pile of fruit on my counter at the end of the day," said another canteen vendor, who declined to be named. "Sometimes they say they don't have enough money to pay for both the meal and the fruit, so I serve them just the food, even though it is against the guidelines."

The School of Science and Technology (SST) has adopted a novel way to dispense fruit that minimises food wastage. Students receive a token from stallholders for every meal that they purchase, which can be exchanged for a portion of fruit of their choice from a vending machine in the canteen.

Canteen food prices have gone up by about 30 cents. SST said the "nominal" increase in price covers the cost of healthier ingredients and fruit. It added that the Health Promotion Board audits the canteen stalls on a monthly basis and reimburses those that meet requirements.

"The new guidelines were a sudden change that we had to adapt to," said Madam Noor Khaizah, 57, who works at a canteen stall in SST. "But I attended courses on how to make food taste good without oil, and improvise on recipes."

This article was first published on Feb 1, 2016.
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