Food shortages and rising prices put healthy school meals at risk

·2 min read
Primary school children eat lunch - Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph
Primary school children eat lunch - Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph

Fresh meat including beef could be off the menu at some schools as rising prices put the provision of healthy meals under threat, caterers have warned.

Some caterers have started using more processed food while others have switched from British meat to meat from abroad, according to Laca, the school food caterers’ association.

A survey of 170 school caterers across England and Wales found that the vast majority are experiencing food shortages and faced a 20 per cent rise in average food costs since April 2020. Almost a third of caterers said they were experiencing shortages of fresh meat, while the same proportion are considering using more processed food.

Nearly eight in ten caterers have had to change or reduce menu options because of supply chain problems.

Jacquie Blake, national chair of Laca, said: “With families facing a cost of living crisis at home, it is even more urgent than ever that all children receive a healthy school lunch. This can only be achieved through sufficient support for the sector and we are calling on the Government to act now to ensure that schools are able to continue feeding children.”

Laca warned that the quality of school meals will get worse if funding is not ring-fenced by the Government, pointing out that 40 per cent of caterers are concerned they will no longer be able to meet the school food standards in the new academic year.

‘An additional £4 billion this year’

Will Quince, children and families minister, said the Government has “really clear school food standards, which are all about healthy, nutritious meals for children while they’re at school”.

“I recognise the global inflationary pressures that the school catering sector and schools are not immune from – that’s why we’ve put an extra £7 billion over the course of the spending review period into schools, an additional £4 billion of that this year,” he said.

Laca said the cost of staples such as minced beef had risen by 11 per cent overnight in recent days. Some school leaders said they are trying not to allow rising food costs to affect the quality of school meals but that this is stretching their budgets in other areas.

Paul Gosling, president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his school has held off increasing meal costs to avoid putting pressure on families, but warned that the approach “is not sustainable”.

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