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School lunch numbers in at last minute on day one of teachers' strike

Food being prepared in a school canteen.
Food being prepared in a school canteen. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

While all kids are ensured the chance to eat lunch at their school cafeteria even during Estonia's nationwide teachers' strike, markedly less food than usual was prepared on Monday. Even so, as the exact number of students needing school lunches wasn't confirmed until the last minute, some food may end up being thrown out.

For many kids, school meals are the only proper meal they get each day. School cooks are struggling during the teachers' strike that began Monday, however, as they don't for whom or how many to cook.

At Tartu Raatuse School, parents are expected to mark in the online ARNO system when their children won't need lunch. On Monday, the school made lunch for 30, not 600.

"Since we received this info at the last minute, then we worked with what we could offer – what we had on hand," said Ene Veski, director of the cafeteria at Tartu Raatuse School.

Should more kids turn up than expected, the cooks will whip up something that's quick to make.

"It was very challenging to come up with what to offer to eat, because typically we offer chilled meat at Tartu schools," said Tiiu Endrikson, marketing director for school lunch provider Baltic Restaurants Estonia. She noted that ordering this takes more time.

"This is likewise a highly perishable commodity and it can't be ordered very far in advance," Endrikson added.

At Tallinn High School No. 32, lunch is typically made for 950 students; on Monday, they expected just 180. Food still had to be ordered for nearly 1,000, however, as the number of students still needing school meals didn't come in until Sunday evening.

While some foodstuffs will keep for a few days, since extra food was still made for Monday just in case, some will ultimately end up just being thrown away.

"From an economic perspective, this is still a very big loss for the company," said Baltic Restaurants Estonia service director Kaarel Roose.

"You get money per child, but there are 950 students at this school, but 180 eating – we get paid for that 180," he explained. "Meanwhile, expenses have been incurred on commodities, expenses have been incurred on transport, employees want to get paid – in other words, the company ends up taking a real economic hit."

The company has decided that if the number of diners falls below ten, then they won't even turn on the stove in the school kitchen; they'll offer kids the chance to buy ready-to-eat food from the cafeteria instead.

Rakvere is one of few local governments that opted instead to distribute food packages for children during the teachers' strike.

"Quite a lot of children that attend school in Rakvere come in from outside of the city of Rakvere, and I think it's fairly unlikely that they'll start coming into town for lunch period," said Rakvere Deputy Mayor Laur Kaljuvee.

Food packs will be distributed Wednesday; the handful of kids expected to turn up at the school regardless will be provided with food that is easy to heat up, such as canned soup.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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