Senator Aisling Dolan noted
‘“As part of Budget 2021, my Fine Gael colleague Minister Heather Humphreys provided an additional €5.5 million for the extension of the Hot School Meals with effect from January to 35,000 primary school children who had been availing of the Department’s School Meals Programme which provided cold lunch options only.
“The Department contacted some 700 primary schools currently receiving the cold lunch option under the School Meals Programme in November seeking expressions of interest to avail of the hot school meal.
“Approximately 40% of schools expressed an interest in the programme and 189 schools were selected, having regard to geographical spread across all local authority areas, taking into consideration pupil numbers and the overall budget available for the programme in 2021.
“The hot meals will be available to all pupils enrolled in these schools, which do not have canteen/kitchen facilities for preparation of the hot dinners on site’
The hot meal will replace the cold lunch option that had been in place previously. Each school must identify a supplier who will supply (prepare and deliver) the hot meals in line with HACCP and food safety regulations in compliance with the Healthy Ireland ‘Nutrition Standards for Hot School Meals’.
“Schools will be expected to provide a menu choice of at least two different meals per day plus a Vegetarian/Vegan and an option that caters for students’ religious and cultural dietary requirements.”
Senator Dolan continued: “In further welcome news, Minister Humphreys also announced today that funding under the School Meals Programme will continue during the upcoming Easter holidays for primary and second level schools.
“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, funding for the School Meals Programme had been confined to the academic year, however the Department of Social Protection has ensured that this support has continued throughout, including during term breaks and school holidays.
“I can reassure schools and parents that the funding for the programme will also continue during the Easter break between 29th March and April 9th. This will be done through the provision of food parcels.
“The funding for the School Meals Programme throughout the entire school terms and holidays offers a security for many vulnerable of schoolchildren by ensuring that participating schools can provide food parcels benefiting pupils during this time.”
Also, today, Minister Humphreys published ‘Evaluation of the Hot Meals Pilot’ which was carried out on behalf of the Department and completed in July 2020. Minister Humphreys commented: “This research has found that the hot school meals pilot project had a very positive impact on their child’s attendance at school, physical health and psychological wellbeing.
“Overall, the results were encouraging with the majority of parents, teachers and SNAs rating the hot meals as better quality than food that children ate previously. “This is a sound endorsement for the expansion of the Hot School Meals programme and I would hope to extend it further to include additional schools in the future.”