MORE students are enjoying cheaper tuckshop food as an increasing number of schools rent out canteen stalls directly to individuals instead of commercial operators.
Stallholders pay more rent under such operators and they tend to pass on the higher costs to students.
Since last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has been encouraging more schools to take over management of their canteens.
These schools lease stalls directly to individual vendors under what is known as the individual stallholder system (ISS).
Currently, 80 per cent of school canteen stalls are under this rental system, up from about 75 per cent last year.
The remaining stalls are under the single tender system (STS) which lets a "master tenant" run the entire canteen and rent out stalls to individual businesses.
Schools such as Chung Cheng High School (Main) and the School of Science and Technology use this system.
Monthly rentals under the ISS are as low as $5 to $15, depending on the size of the school population, while those for the STS range from $400 to $600.
This rental difference leads to slightly higher food prices under the STS - by about 5 per cent for primary schools and 7 per cent for secondary schools.
For instance, a bowl of mee siam or fishball noodles could cost $1.60 under the ISS and $1.80 under the STS.
Tuckshop meals generally cost below $3 each, and prices are monitored by a canteen committee headed by the school principal.
MOE said it is encouraging more schools to adopt the ISS so that "canteen prices continue to remain affordable to students".
A Secondary 2 School of Science and Technology student, who spends $5 a day on a meal of spaghetti and two drinks, said: "Lower prices would definitely be good so I can save more money."
Some items can be "quite expensive", added the 14-year-old. For example, three chicken fingers cost $1.50, and the price of bottled drinks rose by 10 cents to $1.10 this year.
Mr Wayne Bay, 27, who owns 7th Heaven, a social enterprise that runs five secondary school canteens, said his contracts with the schools will end this year.
He charges his stallholders monthly rentals of up to $200 - cheaper than that of other operators - and gives priority to needy families.
"I feel a bit disappointed because it took us a while to build up to this stage," said Mr Bay, who ran a fruit juice stall in a school canteen for two years before starting his company in 2011.
He is considering running more cafes like the one he opened in a secondary school this year.
Mr Fu Yong Hong, 25, the owner of Green Dot Gourmet, said his contract with Chung Cheng High School (Main) will end in the first quarter of next year.
He decided to go into business in commercial buildings, and opened an outlet serving vegetarian food at Bedok Mall last December. He is setting up another stall at Paya Lebar Square this year.
"Commercial outlets are more profitable, but I hope to continue with schools, as I want to encourage students to have healthier and more balanced meals," he said.