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Serving up practical advice ahead of the provision of free school meals for under 8s
by Karen Grewcock, head of category food and catering, ESPO
Thursday, May 29, 2014

A lack of catering staff, not enough dining room space and sourcing enough ingredients to triple the number of meals served per day are just some of the concerns currently facing headteachers as they look at how they’re going to make best use of increased budgets to provide free school meals for the under 8s this year .

In a bid to encourage healthier eating and enhance learning, late last year the Government announced that from September 2014 it plans to make all children in reception and years 1 and 2 in state-funded primary schools eligible for a free school meal.

Although this move is widely supported for the benefits it’ll offer pupils, it’s fair to say that the plans are causing logistical headaches for many primary schools. As a public-sector professional buying organisation we’ve received an increased volume of calls from headteachers and their governors concerned about the practicalities of delivering this significant increase in school meals.

The health and educational benefits of providing free school meals is in no doubt and this initiative fits in well to tackling childhood obesity and enhancing concentration levels in school children. Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg announced that the Government would be providing more than £1 billion to ensure that children get a healthy meal in the middle of the day and that in addition to helping improve performance in the classroom, it would also mean significant savings for families.

With an estimated 1.55 million additional infants eligible for a free school meal, some schools will see an increase in the number of meals it needs to provide on a daily basis. Although the Government has pledged £150million to help schools expand their catering and dining facilities, schools are still unsure about where to turn to for new equipment, extra staff and whether their current catering suppliers will cope with this increase in demand.

The ways in which schools provides meals differs from school to school so we’re hearing from teachers looking to refurbish their kitchens, those that need extra dining room furniture to accommodate an increase in young diners and those who don’t feel their staff or kitchen can cope with the demand for extra meals.

We are currently working with many schools to help them find a solution to their needs which is both practical and cost effective, whether that’s sourcing a quality ingredients supplier or an organisation that specialises in fold away dining room tables. And for those schools without a kitchen, we can offer advice on sourcing and working with catering service providers and with the supply of food, such as fruit and veg, meat and groceries.

So our immediate advice for any schools planning for these increased numbers is to act now and seek guidance from experts who can advise you on how best to prepare.

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