Manitoba parents worried about rising cost of food as school year approaches

Some parents in Winnipeg say as food prices rise, they’ll face difficult choices when the school year starts.

Tamara Kuly, a mother of two who is running for trustee in Winnipeg School Division’s Ward 7 in this fall’s election, said her family is being more conscious about the food they buy — discussing whether or not an item is part of their core diet or if it’s “a treat we can do without.” 

Kuly’s family — including her 11-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter — have talked about inflation and how it is impacting their household.

“We’ve had discussions about our ability to pay for extracurriculars and having to limit what those are, and what we’re buying in the store,” she said. “We’ve always had limits, but we talk about why, and [that] things are more expensive.”

The overall grocery bill for her family of four has almost doubled, leading them to make changes in their spending. They’re directing more of their money toward necessities like food and gas now, but “other families don’t have that opportunity,” she said. 

She said many parents in her Luxton neighbourhood will have to decide whether they want to spend time to put together school meals, or spend more money to buy easy-to-prepare food.

She’s particularly noticed  increased costs for easy lunch staples like granola bars, yogurt, fresh fruit and vegetables.

“Things that are prepared [and] are easier to provide for your kids, like Lunchables or things like that, those are more expensive,” but “it takes more time to do things from scratch,” she said.

Teacher Hope Figueroa expects more of her students to be using the food programs at her school this year. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

High school teacher Hope Figueroa said that kind of time pressure — for parents and children — may also present challenges to keeping students fed.

With the start of the school year, “their daily lives change. Early mornings, trying to get a kid up who hasn’t had to get up at 6 a.m. for the entire summer … maybe they don’t get a chance to grab themselves something to eat before they have to run to catch the bus,” she said.

“Their parents might not be available to make breakfast for them like they were doing in the summer months, because of jobs and scheduling.”

Pressure on school programs: teacher

Figueroa’s school has food programs that include breakfast, lunch, snack boxes and food hampers.

“We know that a hungry kid can’t learn as effectively as a child who is fed consistently,” she said.

Most of her students, if not all, have taken items from her classroom’s snack box, said Figueroa, and she expects the food programs will face higher demand this year — and changes due to the rising cost of food.

“[It] might mean the snacks look a little bit different. It might mean maybe putting limits on certain things,” she said. 

There may be efforts to stretch program money, “or you might even see teachers … buying their own little snacks and having their own little drawers,” Figueroa said. “And that’s not to say that that doesn’t already happen.”

Figueroa, who works in the Winnipeg School Division, said many students at her school live in multi-generational homes.

She thinks food security may be difficult to balance along with other necessities for those larger families, and fears parents and caregivers may choose to eat less to ensure their children are fed.

“I think it would be naive of me to assume … that’s not going on already, and that that won’t be something that happens in September.”

Family’s diet changing: parent

Brent Johnson’s two boys are also Winnipeg School Division students. He said his family’s diet has changed — they’re focusing on sale items when they shop and trying to reduce their meat consumption.

“We love meat, so that’s a tricky one,” he said, “My wife is encouraging us to consider meatless meals once a week or more frequently, or alternative proteins.”

His children, who are still in elementary school, sometimes don’t notice kid-friendly meatless meals like pasta or pizza, Johnson said.

Parent Brent Johnson said his family is trying to use less meat in their meals to help curb costs. (Submitted by Brent Johnson)

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg School Division said it has different community partnerships that help provide meal programs to students, although the programs vary from school to school. Schools can also access funding such as the province of Manitoba’s child nutrition grant.

Rising costs affect the vast majority of families in the division, the spokesperson said, and “can indeed impact our meal programs in terms of costs, but the need still exists for many students in our division.”

The spokesperson said strategizing ways to make the best use of allocated funding is part of its duties from year to year.

“Nutrition is considered a basic need that is important to learning.” 

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