School canteens in the province have also been hit hard by inflation, a situation that requires them to be creative in order to continue to offer food to schoolchildren at reasonable prices.
According to Statistics Canada, food prices at grocery stores rose 10.8% in August, the largest increase since 1981.
The situation, which is putting significant financial stress on many New Brunswickers, is also being felt by schools across the province.
According to Marc Pelletier, director general of the District scolaire francophone Nord-Est (DSF-NE), inflation threatens the survival of cafeterias in several small schools, which have been strained since the start of the pandemic.
“It wasn’t easy before inflation,” he recalls. The past two and a half years have not been easy with our buffets. For example, running this type of business within our schools during the pandemic has been quite demanding in terms of inventory and staff management. The buffets are therefore quite strained financially.’
The situation forces many schools to innovate and be imaginative in order to continue offering meals to their students. Polyvalente Roland-Pépin in Campbellton, for example, organizes a meat pie sale in the community to fund its cafe, Mr Pelletier says.
La Mosaïque du Nord in Balmoral also hosts this kind of fundraiser, explains school principal Shawn Arseneault.
“Last year, with the increase in food prices, costs were very high. We had to reduce the canteen staff by one employee and we have to raise funds during the year to make up for the shortfall and not close the buffet,” he said.
From now on, the school uses the days when the children are not in school to cook meals to sell in the community. A spaghetti sauce sale was recently held, an initiative that will allow the school to continue providing inexpensive meals to students.
“We try to be innovative. We had no choice but to introduce a system where parents order and pay for meals online, it saves time, since only two employees work in the cafeteria. On big days we serve up to 150 students, so that’s a lot of food to prepare and serve in one hour. It’s not easy with two people, but we had no choice. It was that or stop the service,” says Mr. Arseneault.
In the case of some smaller schools, the small number of students has already forced some school administrators to stop cafeteria service, adds Marc Pelletier.
“It’s almost impossible to break even if you don’t have enough students to save money for bulk purchases,” he says.
Lack of funds
In New Brunswick, management of cafeteria programs in public schools is the responsibility of school districts. They still follow Department of Education policy, which specifically states that lunches served to students must include “vegetables, fruit, whole grains, milk or alternatives, and meat or alternatives.”
“Schools strive to serve foods and beverages that are whole, minimally processed, and prepared in a healthy manner,” the policy states.
However, Marc Pelletier is concerned that inflation could affect the quality of meals offered to students. If we want to continue to provide healthy and affordable meals to New Brunswick students, Fredericton may one day have to agree to fund cafeterias in the province, he says.
“It is practically impossible to respect all this to the letter and make the buffet profitable,” he says. All general directors regularly draw attention to problems with the funding of the Ministry of Education, we did this often during the pandemic and we continue to do so. There seems to be some listening on their part. But we are far from finding a solution and it will not be tomorrow when food is provided to all students in our schools, even if it exists in some countries.
The Francophone District scolaire Sud was unable to provide an interview on this topic.