The photos being shared on social media of woeful free school meals have shocked and disappointed many – including our charity. Here’s our Chief Executive, Naomi Duncan, on why this level of provision is not acceptable and how improvements can be made.
Back in June 2020, our charity spoke out about the importance of nutrition remaining at the heart of free school meals during lockdown. Those meals are a vital source of nutrition for children living in food insecurity. Yes, free school meals exist as a provision partly to tackle hunger, but that should never mean just providing any old empty carbohydrate, bruised fruit or knock-off tin of beans and assuming that responsibility is fulfilled.
During the crisis, we’ve advocated for school kitchens to stay open and for furloughed kitchen staff to be given the support they need to keep nutritious food coming. We’ve seen so many brilliant examples of that happening – and heard back from parents pleased to have fresh fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy & starch, even quality freshly made meals, to top up their cupboards without the need to queue and fight over (now dwindling) fresh food displays in supermarkets.
Let’s be entirely clear though, the photos doing the rounds on social media of woeful free school meal provision represent the antithesis of that. It is deeply damaging to the dignity of the children and families entitled to free school meals. It also does more to harm the reputation of the school meals industry than anything this country has seen in thirty years. There should be no place for this kind of paltry provision and it’s right to call it out.
We believe better is possible. We believe that there is power and value to good nutritious food remaining at the heart of free school meal provision. We want to amplify the good work that many schools are doing to deliver this, to set an example for others to follow. We’ve seen first-hand throughout this crisis how central schools are to their communities, and how deep their desire to support it goes. We urge schools to use the guidance we helped create for the National Food Strategy and to work alongside their kitchen teams to deliver nutritious food wherever possible and to use voucher schemes where this is more appropriate.
This crisis won’t last forever, but the way we all respond to it will linger on longer in the memory.