Some 1.8 million children face poorer quality school meals as a result of the rising cost of food, according to a new survey.
LACA, the school caterers trade body, says food prices have risen by 30% since May 2022, resulting in 28% of school caterers now using more processed foods.
More than a third of its members are also considering switching from British to imported meat.
Dersingham School in Newham, one of London’s most deprived boroughs, is set to launch a new menu after the autumn half-term holiday.
“We’re very proud that all the meat that we use in school meals is UK sourced, but that’s something we might need to reconsider moving forward,” explains Michael Hales, the managing director at Juniper Ventures, which provides catering for Dersingham.
“We’re also currently cooking everything from scratch, but again, we’re having to introduce some processed foods into our sauces moving forward,” he tells Sky News.
“The price of food has rocketed this year, some items have gone up by 50%. That’s having an enormous challenge on being able to deliver meals that meet the school meals guidelines each day.”
‘You can’t teach children on empty bellies’
Dersingham’s headteacher Lando Du Plooy explained that poor diets result in poor learning.
“You can’t teach children on empty bellies, you can’t make any impact on their teaching and learning if the children are hungry,” he told Sky News.
“If the impact then cascades and gets to the children, and we then start churning out fast food, low quality meals that are not healthy for the children, it then creates the whole issue around the obesity challenge that we’re trying to tackle, the challenge of unhealthy meals and unhealthy habits that they lead to later on in life.”
LACA’s chairman Brad Pearce has called on the government to help.
“Without an increase in school meal funding the most vulnerable children in our society will go without, possibly, their only hot, healthy, and nutritious meal of the day,” he said.
“We are also urging the government to raise the FSM (free school meals) entitlement threshold to all children whose parents are on Universal Credit, to ensure that no child misses out on a school lunch.
“A hungry child cannot learn, but for too many children this could soon become their reality.”
What does the government say?
A spokesperson for the government said: “We have expanded access to free school meals more than any other government in recent decades, which currently reach 1.9 million children.
“We are also supporting schools with £53.8bn in core funding this year and a £4bn increase in overall funding from 2021-22.
“The chancellor has unveiled a new growth plan, taking decisive action to get households and businesses through this winter and the next, by growing the economy to raise living standards for everyone.”