Pre-school centres use central kitchen to solve manpower woes

Children eating their lunch at TwinkleKidz@Bendemeer, which uses a meal-catering service.
Children eating their lunch at TwinkleKidz@Bendemeer, which uses a meal-catering service. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - A group of pre-school centres is working with a central kitchen to provide meals for their young charges, in a bid to overcome manpower challenges.

Instead of having each centre hire their own cooks, they now have the central kitchen prepare the food, which is then delivered to the pre-schools.

Recruiting and retaining kitchen staff are perennial problems in pre-schools, and this approach helps to ease these manpower woes.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say was at TwinkleKidz@Bendemeer on Monday to observe the meal catering service in the full-day centre for infants and children.

Mr Xu Yijue, director of TwinkleKidz@Bendemeer, said preparing meals for an entire centre is a laborious affair as the cook is also in charge of planning the menu, buying groceries, and cleaning the dishes. As a result, cooks usually do not last long in the job.

"If we are not able to hire a cook, our teachers need to step in to do the cooking. But this means they are not able to take care of the children," he said.

With the central kitchen approach, the kitchen staff at each pre-school will no longer have to cook.

The pre-school can then put them in charge of other administrative duties such as serving meals to the children and assisting the teachers in taking care of them.

In September last year, 33 pre-school centres with a total enrolment of about 2,000 children, started on a three-month trial of the meal catering service.

Of the 33 centres, 26 have signed a year-long contract to continue with the service. Three new centres that were not in the original trial have also come onboard.

The catering service was initiated by the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services, in collaboration with the Employment and Employability Institute.

It is a project under the Lean Enterprise Development Scheme, which encourages small- and medium-sized enterprises to be more manpower-lean by innovating and automating certain processes.