THOUSANDS more children will be tucking into free school dinners next term.
About 3,000 pupils across the city are expected to start join the free school meals scheme at the beginning of the new school year, as part of a new Government initiative.
The move will also see the creation of 60 new jobs in the council’s School Meals Service.
Currently 11,500 primary pupils use the service, but the numbers will be boosted in September as the Government introduces free meals for reception, year one and year two pupils with free school meals.
Further council investment will see school kitchens and dining rooms get upgraded to make sure all schools can manage the 20 per cent upsurge in numbers.
Hill View Infants school in Helvellyn Road, Sunderland is expected to see the biggest increase in the number of pupils receiving free school meals, with the figure rising by 100, to 360.
Headteacher Claire Smith, said: “The uptake in our school is going to be huge.
“It’s great news for us, and the authority has been working really closely with us to develop the menus are figure out how everything is going to work logistically.
“The difference this year will be around the choices on the menus.
“We are going to have two serving hatches.
“For us with such young children, we are developing their independence through the school meals and teaching them how to use a knife and fork and make meal choices.”
Year one pupil Heidi Cliff, six, said: “I had packed lunches before but the dinners are better.
“I use the salad bar and the meatballs are my favourite, and I like green beans.”
Fellow year one pupil Poppy Haikney, also six, added: “I like my vegetables and I like spaghetti.
“My mam thinks the school meals are good for me.”
Keith Miles, catering service manager at Sunderland City Council, said: “We are working on the new menu now and hope to have it ready in draft form by Easter.
“The current menus have proved popular with children, but the additional challenge we have now is having a menu that will work for all the year groups.
“There’s been a bit of a scare mongering in the national press saying this initiative to provide free meals for all year groups won’t work, but we want people to know we are ready for it.”
Coun James Blackburn, responsible for city services, said: “There has been major investment in our school kitchen and dining facilities over a number of years.
“This, and the steps we are currently taking to invest in equipment and facilities, recruit more staff and develop new menus, means that we will be more than ready for implementation in September.
“We are ready to cater for the increased demand this September and make sure that all the children and families who take up this new initiative, will be able to realise the health, educational and financial benefits it can bring.”
•PEOPLE can find out more about the catering jobs on offer at the City Council, as part of the School Meals Service, at jobs fairs this spring.
They will be held at Sunderland Aquatic Centre, tomorrow, from 10am to noon, and on Friday, at Houghton Sports Centre, from 2pm to 4pm.
The jobs firs will also be held on Thursday, April 3, from 11am to 1pm, at Washington Leisure Centre and on Friday, April 4, from 2pm to 4pm, at Sunderland Aquatic Centre.
For more information, visit www.northeastjobs.org.uk.