School canteens in the provinces have also been hit hard by inflation, and this situation requires them to be resourceful in order to continue to offer school meals at reasonable prices.
In August, grocery store food prices rose 10.8% over the grocery basket, the biggest increase since 1981, according to Statistics Canada.
The situation, which represents significant financial stress for many New Brunswickers, is also being felt in schools across the province.
Inflation is threatening the survival of cafeterias at several small schools, which have already been overwhelmed since the start of the pandemic, according to Marc Pelletier, CEO of the District Francophone School of the Northeast (DSF-NE).
“It wasn’t easy before we survived inflation,” he recalls. The last two and a half years have not been easy for our canteens. Running this kind of business in our schools during the pandemic has been quite a challenge in terms of inventory and employee management, for example. So the cafeterias are in financial trouble.”
The situation is forcing many schools to innovate and be creative in order to continue offering food to their students. Polyvalente Roland-Pépin in Campbellton, for example, organizes the sale of meat pies in the community to fund its cafeteria, Mr. Pelletier says.
La Mosaïque du Nord in Balmoral also organizes similar fundraisers, explains principal Sean Arceneau.
“Over the past year, with rising food prices, costs have been very high. We had to reduce the staff of the canteen by one employee, and we must raise funds within a year to compensate for the shortage and not close the canteen, ”he said.
From now on, the school uses days when children are not at school to prepare food for sale in the community. The Spaghetti Sauce Sale was recently held, an initiative that will allow the school to continue providing affordable meals to students.
“We try to be innovative. We had no choice but to introduce a system whereby parents order and pay for meals online, which saves time as we now only have two employees in the canteen. On big days we serve up to 150 students, so there is a lot of food to prepare and serve in an hour. It’s not easy with two people, but we didn’t have a choice. It was either that, or stop the service,” says Mr. Arceno.
In some smaller schools, low student numbers have already forced some school administrators to shut down the cafeteria, Mark Pelletier adds.
“It’s almost impossible to break even if you don’t have enough students to save money on bulk purchases,” he says.
Lack of funding
In New Brunswick, school districts are responsible for managing public school canteen programs. They remain subject to Department of Education policy, which specifically stipulates that meals served to students must include “vegetables, fruits, whole grains, milk or alternative foods, and meat or alternative foods.”
“Schools are committed to serving food and beverages whole, minimally processed, and prepared in a healthy way,” the rules state.
However, Mark Pelletier fears that inflation could affect the quality of meals offered to students. If we want to continue providing healthy and affordable food to New Brunswick students, Fredericton may one day have to agree to fund the province’s canteens, he said.
“It’s almost impossible to take all of this literally and make the cafeteria profitable,” he says. All CEOs regularly approach the Department of Education with questions about funding, we have done this often during the pandemic and continue to do so. It looks like someone is listening to them. But we are far from a solution, and not tomorrow all the students in our schools will be provided with food, even if it exists in some countries.
Francophone School District South was unable to give an interview on this topic.