When I was a teenager at school, I always looked forward to lunchtime - and school dinners. I remember they always had big old-fashioned meals that we never ate at home (we ate well when I was younger but it was strictly 'fishfingers and oven chips' territory at home from my teens). I remember queuing up to receive dishes such as meat pie (made with suet pastry - swoon), big, cheesy portions of lasagne or fish on a Friday. From what I gather, school dinners are much like that nowadays, only they're more nutritionally balanced, which means less of the suet pastry and more fruit and veggies.
But not every child nowadays has access to a hot dinner. I mentioned that we didn't eat that kind of food at home. My Mum was on her own, with three of us to feed and I think she just reached for the freezer at dinner times to reheat whatever was cheap and quick. And, from what I know of Mums at the school gates now, it's often the same story. And it's more true of families that are struggling, for whatever reason, to pay the shopping bills or even the school dinner cook. The Children's Society estimates that the cost of a school dinner amounts to £370 per year. They believe that if the government extended their free school meals policy to working families on low incomes as well, some families could be lifted out of poverty.
And if you think there's no need to offer free school dinners to more children, that all children, surely, get fed every day at school, then you might find some new research of interest. The Children's Society conducted a survey among teachers. They found that 72% of teachers questioned had seen a child coming in to school with no lunch and no money to pay for one. 66% of these teachers admitted that they had given children food or some money from their own pocket to pay for a lunch. In addition, when asked whether children in low income working families should receive free school meals, 98% of teachers gave their support. The Children's Society estimate that there are 1.2 million children in the UK who might not be eating a single, nutritious meal all day.
We all know how important it is to eat regularly during the day, to keep our energy and concentration going. For children, it's really important, because they're learning such a lot of things and taking in so much during the day. Food is, after all, fuel.
What do you think? If you agree with The Children's Society you can add your name to the petition, which, at the time of writing, has almost 35,000 signatures. They've also developed a little tool where you can see if you could budget for families in various financial situations - called The Poverty Trap. Or if you want to read more about the survey and what the teachers said, then check out the full report online.
What do you think? Are more free school meals for kids a good idea?