WITH SCHOOL MEALS BACK IN THE HEADLINES AND WARNINGS ABOUT RISING FOOD COSTS AND SHRINKING PORTIONS, OUR CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NAOMI DUNCAN, CALLS FOR ACTION TO ADDRESS THE ONGOING ISSUES IN SCHOOL FOOD.
The pressure is certainly on and many school chefs are working hard to find creative short-term solutions but we’re not seeing school kitchen teams cutting back on portion sizes. The red alert we’re seeing is concern about hungry kids – and schools footing rising bills when pupils can’t pay for lunch.
The need to expand free school meal eligibility has never been so great – kids are at risk of missing out and schools simply can’t afford to subsidise school food even further from their budgets. Equally we need to focus on training and empowering school kitchen teams to adapt menus and recipes, if we want to future-proof the industry against future shocks.
FREE SCHOOL MEALS
The threshold for free school meal eligibility has been too low for too long. Only families earning under £7,400 a year can apply. Children who need a meal are going hungry.
Increasing the threshold will give them the nutrients and brain-food they need to learn. It will also give families some help with the cost of living crisis: £10+ per week, per child if they are currently paying for meals.
As a bonus, it would benefit schools and caterers – more guaranteed customers through the door improves economy of scale.
But we also need to ensure every school kitchen team has the know-how and confidence to cope with increasing prices and disrupted supply chains. This is where training comes in. If teams have the freedom and confidence to make meals from scratch, their professional skills will help alleviate price increases to some degree.
The school kitchen teams we support make all meals from scratch. They’re using their professional expertise to adapt menus and recipes to ensure quality stays high and portions never shrink.
Half the schools we work with are increasing the number of vegetarian options available.
A fifth are altering recipes.
A small number are avoiding certain ingredients.
But, undoubtedly, yes. The pressure is on in school kitchens.
And in smaller schools, where economies of scale will never apply, we need even more creative solutions – for example, we’re trialling a kitchen hub which will make fresh food for lots of small schools.
So what practical measures could be taken now to make an immediate difference?
First and foremost – free school meal eligibility needs to be expanded to include all families on universal credit.
Compliance with the School Food Standards must be monitored and procurement standards must be introduced in school food – setting and enforcing legal minimum standards for quality.
Long term, the Government needs to get behind the mission to train school kitchen teams and to value the work they do.
Most of all, we all need to value school food and realise its importance. Research shows getting school food right reduces obesity and increases wellbeing, attainment and health. Children, the NHS and society benefit from good school food.