School food parcel scandal: what’s the reality?

School food parcel scandal: what’s the reality?

Feeding children is always an emotive topic. Picky eating, food refusal, junk food, home cooking and compulsory school dinners all arouse fierce emotion in anyone who is responsible for the feeding of children, and the recent school food parcel scandal is no exception.

School food parcels or school food vouchers?

During the school closure we had seen in spring and summer of 2020, families entitled to free school meals received vouchers worth £15 per week per child, that they could allocate to a supermarket of their choice. There were initial difficulties accessing the online system but the value of the vouchers and the choice that came with them was, in general, not criticised by parents.

However, free school meal provision has been a little different since September. Schools reopened to all pupils, but some children ended up having to isolate at home during the autumn term because of positive covid cases within their class bubbles. Children entitled to free school meals were still entitled to those meals, even though the children themselves weren’t at school. So the meals were replaced by food parcels so that the children wouldn’t go hungry at home.

School food parcels were brought into the public consciousness by this post on Twitter:


What is in a school food parcel?

My children are entitled to free school meals and we received a food parcel in the last week of term when our Year Six bubble was forced to close. If I’d known I was going to be writing this article, I would have kept the details! What I can tell you though is that it was better than what Roadside Mum received. Ours was supposed to cover five lunches for one eleven year old and it did. We also got a recipe leaflet in case we needed it, which we didn’t but we were glad to see our caterers being so considerate! Most of the food was staples like eggs, pasta and fruit so they were easy to combine with other food I had in the house.

A poor substitute for the voucher scheme

However, whether you had my experience or Roadside Mum’s, it’s clear that school food parcels are a poor replacement for the voucher system. What I received can’t have been worth £15. I had the luxury of having other food in the house but I know others don’t. Cooking one child’s portion of stir fry when you can’t expand it to feed the rest of the family is not efficient. I also know – and I’m surprised this hasn’t come up yet – that families who are in or recently out of temporary accommodation may not have basic cooking utensils.

Impact on caterers

Meanwhile, we have catering suppliers reporting that they will have to pour away countless gallons of undrunk milk and smash impossible numbers of freshly-laid eggs because schools don’t need them for school dinners. Are food parcels a way of using up the excess? It’s hard to ignore the connection.

Is Surrey using the school food parcel scheme?

We can see what councils hoped the food parcel scheme would achieve, but it’s clear that it doesn’t actually support those who need it most. Fortunately, here in Woking, our local primary and secondary schools have already adopted the voucher scheme instead – I hope we’ll see this trend across the rest of the county too.

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