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Free school lunches for infants - what do you think?

(480 Posts)
KateSMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 02-Sep-14 10:57:28

Starting this month, in accordance with plans announced last year, all pupils in English primary schools up to the end of Year 2 will be eligible to receive free school meals.

How do you feel about the changes? Is it money well-spent, or could the funds be put to better, more targeted use? Has your school had to make any changes such as building new rooms or using classrooms? Are you glad to have lunches taken care of, or would you prefer to make your child's lunch? Have you seen the new menus, and are you happy with them? Will any of you be opting out?

We'd love to hear what you think - do let us know below. And keep your eyes peeled for a guest post on the nutritional value of school meals, coming later this week.

p.s For those of you still making a pack-up every morning, try out this recipe for the perfect lunch box bars (you can still make them even if your DC are at Uni, we won't tell)

We're in Wales, so won't be benefitting from free school lunches. Overall I'm not convinced either way whether it's a good or bad idea.
I know in our county, the school meals are supposed to meet high standards and are cooked onsite but some days they give them such shite food, like one day it's 'big breakfast' - sausage, bacon and eggs. OK to the eggs but bacon for lunch for a 5 yr old?
They also advertise pudding will be eg frozen yoghurt and fruit but DD comes home and says it was ice cream and strawberry sauce. And she knows the difference! If they don't give what they advertise, that buggers up my meal planning.

My DD tends to have dinners she enjoys eg roast, cottage pie, curry, pasta and meatballs and other days take packed lunch.
I'm not convinced the meals in England will be much different so I can't work out how they can say they are low in sugar and salt.

DaisyFlowerChain Tue 02-Sep-14 11:28:19

I think it's a truly awful idea and a waste of money. Parents should be responsible for feeding their own children.

If there is spare money for schools, it would have been better spent on extra staff or resources for those struggling. That would give them a better future rather than lunch.

GimmeMySquash Tue 02-Sep-14 11:29:40

I think it is great, the children will all be treated the same. No splitting up of friends as one has a packed lunch the other hot school meal. No lunch box inspections. Less to carry, less to worry about in the morning, what is not to like about it.

PausingFlatly Tue 02-Sep-14 11:35:06

I think it's a great idea, as long as the food is high enough quality. Which is a lot easier to achieve with guaranteed economies of scale.

We seem to have worked ourselves into a dreadful corner where schools don't actually have kitchens to enable them to feed the children who do want school meals, so reheat crap. Which is a vicious cycle, and ultimately fails those who really need the school dinners.

Add in the madness of the unqualified lunchbox police projecting their adult dieting notions onto 6 year olds and actually creating food issues in people who didn't have them...

I don't have children - and I'm happy for my taxes to go on this.

MaliceInWonderland78 Tue 02-Sep-14 11:37:45

I'm not sure that I'm in favour. Where does it end? Will they be getting free uniforms next? I send my child to school to be educated. It's my responsibility to make sure that they turn up with everything they need to do that. That includes: Having had sufficient sleep the night before; having had breakfacts; Having the approriate uniform; and with a suitable lunch (or money to buy one).

If there's extra money to go round, make the school days longer (a real help for working parents) and standardise the school year.

SoonToBeSix Tue 02-Sep-14 11:43:30

I think it's a great idea. Maliceln totally disagree about making school days longer. Children go to school to be educated not for free childcare.

ItStillLooksLikeRainDear Tue 02-Sep-14 11:45:49

My DS starts in reception this year and so is eligible for free meals. I have opted in as we probably would have paid for them anyway.

Having said that though, I do think it is a huge waste of money that could be better spent in areas where it is truly needed.

TheKnackeredChef Tue 02-Sep-14 11:46:06

It's a colossal waste of money to introduce any kind of non-means tested benefit at a time when important public services are being cut all over the place. I have a reasonable enough income and there's no way my DS should get FSMs. I'd much rather they used that budget to provide good quality FSMs across the board for all kids who need them, rather than for everyone for just the first few years.

MaliceInWonderland78 Tue 02-Sep-14 11:47:36

Soon It's not either/or. There's no reason a longer school day couldn't incorporate a homework club or some extra-curricular activities.

Also, it's far from "free"

ElephantsNeverForgive Tue 02-Sep-14 11:48:40

DD2 would have refused to eat them, so will thousands of other children.

After 1/2 term 50% will be back on packed lunches, it's a total waste.

Personally I'd much rather see all senior schools forced to provide decent, salad containing sandwiches and fruit, with the absolute minimum of queueing.

At present all healthy eating advice goes out the window at age 11. Neither living on junk or skipping lunch entirely are healthy, but that's what very many 11-18yo do.

NickiFury Tue 02-Sep-14 11:51:08

I think my children would never have eaten them and still would have taken packed lunches.

I think in theory it's a good idea, for families who are possibly neglectful or very poor,it ensures that those children get a decent meal. My Mum was from a very poor family and she and her siblings survived on their school dinners. They ate every bit and seconds and thirds if allowed. She told me they really struggled without that meal in the school holidays until they found a church that provided them.

I think the people who moan about it probably haven't ever experienced that kind of situation and if even one child doesn't go hungry because of free school meals then that makes it worthwhile to me.

niceguy2 Tue 02-Sep-14 11:54:21

A political gimmick. A bone thrown to the lib dems. A complete waste of money that could have been better spent elsewhere.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Tue 02-Sep-14 11:56:22

I think it's fantastic. I have a 6 year old and a 4 year old and am so happy that they'll be getting a free school lunch with their friends. I think it is very good for social skills and table manners as well as introducing the children to a wide range of foods. T

here were no school dinners for reception children at our school before and this has made sure this has been rectified. I was looking at the menu yesterday and the lunches sound delicious and healthy. Also there is more flexibility now so you don't have to commit to meat or vegetarian once and for all but can opt for preferred choice on weekly basis.

I am very pleased with it and do think it is a very good thing to spend money on. Poor manners and obesity are genuinely problems in this country at the moment.

thereturnofshoesy Tue 02-Sep-14 11:56:44

waste of money.
this should be targeted at those in need and not for everyone.

MrsTittleMouse Tue 02-Sep-14 11:57:09

I'm not in favour - where we live there haven't been hot lunches available for ages, so no schools have kitchens. That means that the only option for hot meals is food cooked off site and kept warm for hours, and we all know what the quality of that will be. hmm No way would my two eat the food in that state. They might claim that the food is more nutritious than a packed lunch, but only when freshly cooked, and only if the child actually eats it!

Plus in areas where the population is increasing, schools are dealing with more classes in each year, so the halls aren't big enough for the children to sit down for lunch, sometimes not even in two sessions. Which means that the children would have to eat at weird times, and the hall wouldn't be available for PE.

Lots of schools are having to come up with options that are costing the school money, money that should be spent on education IMO. I can see the problem that they're trying to address - children who don't get nutritious hot food at home because of lack of knowledge, money or concern - but this has been really badly thought out and won't solve the problem.

PS One last point - the menu that I saw had fish as an option for vegetarian children, has drinks with artificial sweetners several times a week and has two puddings every day (e.g. sugary yoghurt plus fruit). I don't trust private companies to have my children's best nutritional interests at heart, they are all about profit at the end of the day.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Tue 02-Sep-14 11:57:13

Sorry daily basis.

Heels99 Tue 02-Sep-14 11:57:36

Would rather have my child benefit back

crazykat Tue 02-Sep-14 12:02:58

In some ways I think its a good idea. My kids have pestered to have school diners but it would cost me £20 per week for both of them when it was costing less than that to make pack ups for them and my younger two.

There are a lot of families who really struggle where I live but don't qualify for FSM as they earn just above the threshold. In some ways I think it would have been better to raise the threshold for FSM rather than all KS1 getting free dinners regardless of income.

While it may take the pressure off those families now, some will have to find the money again next year and will struggle to do so.

PartTimeModel Tue 02-Sep-14 12:05:07

I'm delighted and as a single parent who didn't qualify for FSM it is a massive boost for us.

I would like to see "pudding" done away with completely though with more emphasis placed on the main meal - a hot dinner followed by fruit would be perfect.

Having "pudding " established as "normal" meal behaviour via school meals, can only contribute to the obesity epidemic in a bad way.

mandy214 Tue 02-Sep-14 12:06:50

I think there are 62 children in my DD's year (she is going into Year 1) and 60 already have school lunches (school has something like a 94% take up of school lunches overall, lots of awards for Healthy Eating etc). AFAIK, the other 2 children are diabetic and their food intake needs to be carefully monitored (hence packed lunch). Last year, all happily paying £2 a day.

This year its free. The 2 children who didn't have school lunches still won't have school lunches. The other 60 will just get them for free.

3 "infant" school years - that's about £68k a year the LEA is losing. Madness in my view.

trufflehunterthebadger Tue 02-Sep-14 12:07:06

On a selfish note i am pleased that i won't have to spend the money or make lunches. DDs school cooks onsite, they have rave reviews for food and all the teachers choose to eat there so i think it will work well there. They are well equipped and funded.

However generally I think its a bad idea when education is so poorly funded, its a cheap vote winner, badly thought out and i have no doubt that it will be very different for other parents

reddaisy Tue 02-Sep-14 12:07:34

It is a waste of money. DD will be trying them but I think the quality of the food is generally poor - and she will be eating things on a day to day basis that she would only be offered as a treat normally.

I would much rather the money was spent helping families who have to use Foodbanks or offering children already on FSM vouchers for food during the holidays or something than offered free food across the board.

I would be v happy if it was organic, well balanced, quality food and the country could afford to pay for it but isn't the case.

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Tue 02-Sep-14 12:10:48

At our school the pudding does tend to be fruit and yoghurt most days with a small cake occasionally.

PartTimeModel Tue 02-Sep-14 12:19:00

DD is offered a hot pudding plus fruit, daily.

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