Hot school meal scheme to be introduced to all primary schools in Ireland
Every child attending primary school in Ireland will receive a free hot school meal from 2030, the Irish Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys, has announced.
From September 2023, The Hot School Meals Programme will start providing children in all DEIS primary schools (disadvantaged schools) with one hot meal daily, before the programme will be applied to all primary schools in Ireland.
The scheme will be rolled out to all remaining non-DEIS schools starting in 2024 using a phased approach, according to the government. The Department of Social Protection will invite primary schools to send expressions of interest over the next few weeks.
The launch of Hot School Meals Programme follows the release of an independent evaluation of the current School Meals Programme led by RSM Ireland, which showed the positive effect school meals have on children’s education and health.
The report showed the provision of hot school meals resulted in higher levels of attendance, and helped families save money and time in food preparation.
Minister Humphreys said in a statement: “Providing nutritious meals to our children at school is about so much more than food. It helps a child make the most of their education and their childhood.
“It does wonders for our children’s wellbeing, their concentration and their physical and mental health. We know this because we have gone out to schools and asked the children about the difference it makes.“
The current School Meals Programme supports over 1,600 Irish schools and organisations and benefits 260,000 children, the government says.
According to Humphreys, the number of schools receiving free hot meals has grown from 30 to 500 over the past three years, but the aim is to get this number up to 1,000 primary schools by the end of 2023.
Humphreys added: “The report recommends universal provision by 2030 but my ambition is to move faster.
“Given we have already expanded from 30 to 1,000 schools in just over two and a half years, I believe we can reach all primary schools sooner than that.
“My ambition is that a child born in Ireland today will be guaranteed access to a Hot Meal by the time they start school.”
Introducing the scheme will mean an increase to School Meal Rates that are paid to suppliers. Breakfast rates will go up from €0.60 to €0.75 per child per day, and cold lunch costs will increase from €1.40 to €1.70, while dinner will go up from €1.90 to €2.50 and hot school meal rates will rise from €2.90 to €3.20.
In the UK, there have been consistent calls to introduce universal free school meals. Earlier in March, a new coalition of more than 40 education, health and food charities, as well as unions, local councils, and other figures, launched the Say Yes to Food for All campaign, calling on the Government to make school meals free for all children in the country.