Abu Dhabi: Most school canteens in Abu Dhabi have started serving healthy meals in accordance with government policy guidelines.
But even as parents applaud the move, the high prices of fresh and nutritious substitutes have left them with a bad taste in the mouth.
Many said they had to increase the allowances of their children substantially so that they can buy canteen food.
Parents speak out
“I am glad my children are eating healthy, but Dh16 for a chicken sandwich? That’s way too much,” said an Arab mother of three children who go to the same international school.
The parent of another child at the school said prices of snacks have gone up by 50 per cent in some cases.
“Before the school closed for the summer break, a sandwich here would cost Dh10. Now it’s Dh15,” he said.
Interviews with parents and students show the prices of food items in school canteens are just as expensive as restaurants.
A fresh salad costs Dh20 to Dh25, croissant sandwich around Dh15, and a food combo Dh22. Even cakes, muffins and bagels cost between Dh10 and Dh16.
Quality, quantity concerns
Snacks are much cheaper in Indian schools, but their quality and quantity leave much to be desired. “My son has had stomach upsets twice after eating from the canteen,” said an Indian parent.
Another parent said the portion of the Dh12 chicken biryani at her son’s school canteen is too small. “So he ends up buying two boxes for Dh24. We are already reeling under the high cost of education and now we are burdened by the rising cost of canteen food,” she said. A British student at an international school also complained about reduced portions. “Earlier, I used to buy a combo meal for Dh22 and share it with my brother. But not any more as it’s hardly filling,” he said.
Food suppliers’ response
Food suppliers said it’s difficult to strike a balance between quality and affordability.
“We do get feedbacks from parents about high costs. But if you look at what we offer, the price is not so much,” said Louise, School Food Programme Director at Slices that serves four schools in Abu Dhabi and 11 across the UAE.
An Abu Dhabi-based food and beverage company that started operations in 2012, Slices claims it has supplied over 655,600 healthy and balanced meals in UAE schools till date.
Biterite, another provider that serves five schools in Abu Dhabi, said all items in the menu and their prices are pre-approved by the Abu Dhabi educational authorities.
“Before the beginning of every academic year, our nutritionists prepare a new menu and send it to the school management for approval. It’s later sent to the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) with prices and detailed lists of ingredients used in each meal,” said Zahir Alam, Food and Beverages Manager at Biterite.
Cost of school snacks and meals:
Fresh juice: Dh11 to Dh16
Hot meal combo: Dh18 to 22
Chicken biryani: Dh12
Chicken pasta (white or red sauce): Dh12
Ham and cheese croissant: 12
Pastries: Dh5 to Dh6
Sandwiches: Dh8 to Dh16
What is required of school canteens in Abu Dhabi:
-Transport food materials by vehicles approved by Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority.
-Do not expose food to sunlight.
-Transport food (both hot and cold) in safe sealed containers
-Don’t use ingredients that can get spoilt during transportation.
-Use fresh products and wrap food in a hygienic manner. Label product, mention supplier’s details along with production and expiry dates.
-Keep hot meat sandwiches and other hot meals at a temperature not below 63°C.
-Keep cold sandwiches in refrigerators at a temperature not exceeding 5°C.
-Keep salads in refrigerators at a temperature not exceeding 5°C.
-Use appropriate materials to pack food.