A school catering provider says free meals are slowly returning to First and Primary schools as teachers adapt to the ‘new normal’.
Declan O’Toole of Forerunner Catering, which works across the BCP and Dorset Council areas, says it’s vital that children receive healthy and hot food as winter approaches.
All Key Stage 1 children are eligible for free school meals as are some Key Stage 2 children.
Since schools returned, most pupils have been eating packed lunches as staff learned to manage the children in their class or year group ‘bubbles’.
As winter approaches and schools are becoming adept at managing their new systems, they are looking to bring back hot meals.
Declan said: “Schools have worked hard with us to make it happen. Everyone is taking great care to abide by the social distancing restrictions, and it is working well.
“We anticipate more schools returning to hot meals in January and the feedback we’ve had from those which have already re-introduced them has been extremely positive.”
Burton C of E Primary School Headteacher Alison Timmings said: “We thoroughly enjoyed the packed lunches that Forerunner provided for the first half term but with the weather getting colder we wanted to make sure the children had a hot nutritious meal option each day.
“As a new school to the Forerunner family we are really pleased we made this decision as the hot meals, which look, taste and smell delicious, have been a big hit with our pupils.
“Forerunner have been really helpful and proactive in supporting us to do this in a way which supports our Covid risk assessment and our school bubbles.”
Jeremy Payne from St James C of E Primary Academy said: “Restarting hot meals has been an important step back to something approaching normality for our children.
“It is particularly welcome as we are entering the colder winter months as hot food helps with the children’s health, wellbeing and learning capacity.”
The importance of healthy eating was stressed by Dr Stephen Curran, an education expert and former government adviser.
He said: “It’s so important for children to eat healthily and for some their school dinner will be their only good meal of the day.
“Schools should be doing what they can to get hot, healthy food back. It’s not always possible with restrictions but smaller schools might well be able to.
“Good food not only helps a child’s diet and development but gives them a better understanding and example of what fresh home cooked food should be like if this isn’t always available to them.”
As well as providing packed lunches and hot meals, Forerunner is providing hampers for those free school meal children who are forced to stay at home.