COOK­ING UP FREE SCHOOL MEALS

Pri­mary school pupils aged four to seven are from this term en­ti­tled to a free hot meal ev­ery lunchtime. JOANNE ROWNEY finds out who will ben­e­fit from the gov­ern­ment pol­icy, how it came about and whether our schools ready to take on this ad­di­tional pressu

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE -

THERE is no such thing as a free lunch, or so the old say­ing says. But in the case of the lat­est gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive it ap­pears to prove the adage wrong.

Pri­mary school pupils aged seven and un­der are be­ing served a hot meal at no cost to their par­ents as part of a na­tional cam­paign to get chil­dren eat­ing health­ier.

The gov­ern­ment stumped up £1bil­lion to pay for the scheme, and schools across the UK have been pre­par­ing since as early as last win­ter to meet the new need.

About £150mil­lion was made avail­able to get kitchen and din­ing fa­cil­i­ties ready, as many schools had none.

An ad­di­tional £22.5m was set aside to help the smaller schools.

In Bucks the £1.3m grant was ‘not enough’ to set up a suf­fi­cient num­ber of hubs and satel­lites in time for the start of the new term.

When the scheme was an­nounced 66 of 167 el­i­gi­ble schools had no fa­cil­i­ties and the county coun­cil con­firmed 48 can­not yet ful­fil the re­quest.

But­lers Court School, in Wat­tle­ton Road, Bea­cons­field was one the county had to help to build an area to serve hot meals.

The hall had hot plates in­stalled and an eat­ing area built.

It is catered for by a hub kitchen at nearby Bea­cons­field High School, where food is cooked and then de­liv­ered to sev­eral schools.

Last year, dur­ing our Food For Thought cam­paign to high­light the ben­e­fits of a hot meal, head­teacher Jeanette Mar­shall aired her reser­va­tions about the scheme.

She said: “I un­der­stand the need for a hot meal, but now a large part of my day is spent ar­rang­ing staff for this and mak­ing sure we are sorted for the next day.

“It means I am tied up with the school meals rather than other school du­ties.

“We can cope and man­age that but plan­ning wise it takes a lot of time.

“The chil­dren have seen the ben­e­fit eat­ing to­gether and by hav­ing a hot meal, but it’s just the cost to the school in terms of time.

“We will see as it de­vel­ops.”

The aim is to have the re­main­ing schools serv­ing hot meals by Oc­to­ber.

Lit­tle Spring, in Che­sham, was one un­able to make the change, as its kitchen is not big enough.

Of­fice man­ager An­nie Frite said: “It has been a dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion. Our old sup­plier has stopped pro­vid­ing for us and the new one can only pro­vide cold meals at the mo­ment.

“We have done our best but it is go­ing to be a strug­gle, it is early days.

“We don’t know when we will be able to have hot food yet.”

Twenty schools opted to find their own so­lu­tion, de­spite the coun­cil cre­at­ing a ‘su­per hub’, with the ca­pac­ity to pro­vide 5,000 meals a day. It is due to be ready by half-term.

The aim is for it to pro­vide some of the re­main­ing schools’ hot meals, and even­tu­ally to use it as a cen­tral cook­ing school, of­fer­ing lessons for par­ents and chil­dren as well as food hy­giene cour­ses.

St Joseph’s Catholic Pri­mary, in Chal­font St Peter, al­ready pro­vides such lessons and serves food to seven other schools and pro­vides another with cold lunches.

The school’s head chef Paul Jef­ferys said: “Hav­ing hot meals is a good thing, we make sure they are nu­tri­tious and [pupils] have four op­tions [to choose from].”

A typ­i­cal of­fer­ing will in­clude some sort of meat plat­ter, salad, main meal and veg­e­tar­ian op­tion.

At the mo­ment the cook­ing team, which has taken on new staff, is us­ing a mar­quee for stor­age as the amount of work and food they pro­duce has in­creased from 900 meals to about 1,100.

The school caters for Chal­font St Giles Ju­nior and In­fant Schools, Che­nies School, St Mary’s in Farn­ham Royal and St Mary’s in Amer­sham, Our Ladies School, Ger­rards Cross CofE School, and the Den­ham Green E-ACT Academy.

The school is ex­tend­ing the kitchen area by push­ing into stor­age space. Work will be done hope­fully in half-term.

“We were plan­ning this last year,” Mr Jef­ferys said.

“You had to, be­cause of the size of the change.

“We have a mar­quee out­side as there just wasn’t enough room to cater for all the schools we needed to.

“It’s more for stor­age and load­ing.

“We got some new equip­ment too. We do need more support though.”

He added: “With the new work­load it is more fac­tory-like, we have a rou­tine to get it all done.

“We dealt with 120 ki­los of meat to­day, from our lo­cal sup­plier, that’s a lot!”

Mr Jef­ferys said he hopes as schools set­tle in to the new scheme there will be more room for cre­ativ­ity and get­ting the chil­dren in­volved.

For now it ap­pears for chefs, head­teach­ers and par­ents are happy to see their chil­dren get­ting a free meal, but for Bucks at least it will be a bit longer be­fore the full ben­e­fit is felt.

File

WORK TO DO: St Joseph’s Catholic Pri­mary School head chef Paul Jef­ferys

Photo by Clive Tagg www.buyapho­totms.co.uk NL201410519

TUCK IN: Brooke Jack­son (left), six, and Al­lis­tair King, seven, eat at Prest­wood In­fant School

Photo by Grant Humphreys www.buyapho­totms.co.uk NL2014105304

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