The 36-year-old, who also used to run a stall in Lau Pa Sat selling pastas and salads, started the canteen stall at the beginning of this year. The hours are more stable, and he gets to spend more time with his family, especially his three-month-old son.
Students these days have different expectations of school food, having been exposed to a variety of cuisine since young.
Madam Lim Lay Hoon, vice-principal at Jurong West Secondary, said: “The variety also makes school life more interesting.”
MJC principal Lim Yan Hock said students now have more choice. “The options they have are similar to what they see in hawker centres.”
Students are also spending more time in school, due to commitments such as co-curricular activities, Mr Lim said. His school has eight canteen stalls, including one which sells Mediterranean food. There are also stalls selling Muslim food, Western cuisine and Chinese fare.
Students said the canteen food options closely resemble that served in hawker centres and restaurants.
Lianhua Primary pupil Yang Xue, 11, appreciates the variety at her school, which has an international cuisine stall. “It gives us more choices and makes school food interesting,” she said.
Lianhua Primary vice-principal Tan Hui Ping said some pupils at her Bukit Batok school may not have tried food items from other cultures. “Through the canteen stalls, they are exposed to different cultures. Food also brings these pupils together.”
Meals from school canteens typically cost about $3 or less.
The introduction of novel food concepts in canteens comes even as schools place a greater emphasis on getting students to eat right.
Ms Tan said that through good canteen food, schools can instil healthy eating habits in pupils.
Some vendors have taken much effort to ensure healthy meals look – and taste – similar to the original versions, while others source for healthier ingredients and include them in their dishes.
Many stalls, for instance, use the healthier brown rice, and include decent portions of vegetables and fruits. Also, some use airfryers to make snacks like chicken wings.
Schools interviewed said some students, while resistant initially, now eat their greens.
Responding to queries, the Ministry of Education said almost all schools, from primary schools to junior colleges, have adopted the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme, where canteen stall operators must serve healthier food.
Reiterating the point on nutritious meals, Jalan Besar GRC MP Denise Phua, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, said “school canteens are not restaurants”.
“Their top priority should be to offer healthy, affordable and tasty food to the students,” she added. “The availability of cuisine choices in school canteens is a bonus.”