Good old back to school time. Always our busiest time of the year! Whether it’s schools starting a new service with a new caterer; trying something new in the dining room; or running special offers for new Year 7s or reception classes – there’s always a new request for advice or information coming through.
But some of the enquiries we get at this time of year are less about looking to the future and more about dealing with the now. At the end of last term, we were contacted by several parents whose schools had decided that they couldn’t continue to offer school meals this year. For all sorts of reasons, the schools had told parents they didn’t think they could make the numbers stack up.
They’re the calls and emails we’re always really sad to get. As a charity, we know only too well that times are really tough for everyone at the moment. We’re out in schools every day, so we also know how hard it is to keep some school meals services going.
But returns are about more than just the financial. School meals pay back for your school in all sorts of other ways: helping to keep children in a fit state to learn in the afternoon; giving them consistent messages about eating well to perform well – improving attainment, as research over the summer pointed out; giving children the social skills that come with eating with their friends. And apart from anything else, school meals are one of the ways to help prevent food poverty for children – as the main meal of the day for so many.
That’s why parents are often so worried when school meals are in jeopardy. That song lyric about how “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” really rings true here: parents facing the end of the service at their school sometimes tell us they’ve taken school meals for granted, assuming they will always be an option – when the reality at that school might be that if they don’t use them, they could lose them. When parents realise this they are a) keen to spread the word b) keen to make sure meals at their child’s school are the best. Most simply want to roll up their sleeves and do whatever they can to help.
So if your school’s having problems with how to keep school meals going, time is everything. Talk to one of our children’s food advisors and we can help you work through possible solutions before it’s too late. If you’re already worrying about numbers for this year, don’t struggle on alone!
Lisette’s one of our children’s food advisors, who works with groups of parents who are trying to help their schools improve lunchtimes. Email Lisette.