The Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru recently announced that all primary school children will receive free school meals within the next three years.
Jack, from apetito, shares why he welcomes this but why it also comes with challenges.
The Welsh Government is working closely with schools and local authorities whilst investing £25 million into infrastructure, in order that schools can provide these meals.
This is something we welcome here at apetito, as we know how important it is that every child has a tasty, nutritious meal at school, giving them the energy and fuel their bodies need, to focus on their learning and help them achieve their potential.
However, offering nutritionally balanced and consistent free school meals to all pupils will not come without its challenges. Not only will schools need to ensure safety across aspects such as food handling and individual dietary needs (e.g., allergens), but there’s also a need to save time and money, reduce waste, and guarantee consistency with fixed costs, all whilst ensuring pupils still love their mealtimes.
When England introduced universal free school infant meals back in 2014, one of the biggest challenges was finding the kitchen and canteen space, and importantly the staff needed to deliver these meals.*
Taking into account the current volatility of labour market, staffing shortages and unpredictable absences due to sickness or the need to self-isolate, delivering high-quality free school meals to every primary school child is an even bigger challenge than it was in back 2014. It’s crucial that school teams are able to ensure a continuous supply and seamless mealtimes whilst also delivering a high-quality, safe, and exceptional dining experience.
Catering to allergies will need also careful consideration when rolling out these free school meals. Allergies are believed to affect between 3 – 6% of children in the UK and delivering free-from meals bespoke to pupils’ needs is vital. The introduction of Natasha’s Law in October 2021 serves as a salient reminder as to the importance of how allergens, and ‘free-from’ needs are managed effectively within schools. It’s imperative that parents have absolute peace of mind that their child’s safety is a priority and that all allergens are carefully catered for. There can be no compromise in this respect.
All these challenges can be taken away with the simplified catering solution that apetito offers. With our service, we’re able to help support schools’ transition smoothly to offering free school meals for all primary children. We’re here to make mealtimes easy, with consistent guaranteed costs, quality, and nutrition. All while saving you and your staff time, space, and money.
Our pre-prepared meals are carefully created by our team of in-house chefs and dietitians to ensure that every child can enjoy tasty meals, packed with the right nutrients. With more than 200 delicious main meals and desserts to choose from in our range, there is something for every taste and palate. We can also tailor menus to meet bespoke requirements and specialist diets for pupils, whilst fully appreciating the importance of making sure that all food is safe for those pupils who need ‘free-from’ meals in respect of the 14 known allergens.
apetito’s service does not require any skilled labour, so our team can quickly train school staff as to how to prepare meals safely. You also have the flexibility of being able to order the right amount of food according to the number of children and in line with their needs. This means you’re able to control waste and guarantee safe, consistent meals against the backdrop of staffing shortages and unpredictable absences.
With the current financial challenges, it’s clear families need as much support with living costs as possible. For many families, these free school meals for all primary school children will be a small but very welcome financial relief. However, our aim is to ensure providing these free school meals do not become a burden for schools. Our service means we’re able to work in partnership with you and your team to deliver great quality, highly nutritious meals that your pupils will love, whilst giving you full control and flexibility over your catering, enabling you to make a real difference to your pupils.
Find out more at www.apetito.co.uk/schools or email email@example.com
* Luke Sibeta, Institute for Fiscal Studies