How food deliveries work for children on free school meals in the Sunderland area

A fresh row has erupted nationally over free school meals.A fresh row has erupted nationally over free school meals.
A fresh row has erupted nationally over free school meals.
Council chiefs have revealed how free school meals are working for children across the region.

A national row over the quality of food parcels, sent out instead of food vouchers, was sparked earlier this week after a parent posted a picture of the “inadequate” food parcel she received.

The viral image of the food box contents have also drawn criticism from Premier League footballer, Marcus Rashford, who previously campaigned to expand the state-led provision of free school meals along with other welfare causes.

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In light of national concerns over the quality of food parcels during lockdown, council chiefs have stressed that their free school meals provision offers balanced meals for pupils.

Councillor Louise Farthing, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for children, learning and skills, said: “Schools that receive the city council’s meals service, including free meals, are distributing food parcels in line with Government guidance.

“Parcels are produced on site and distributed by the school or collected by parents.

“All other schools and academies have been provided with guidance and support to ensure they are meeting the Government requirements.”

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The city council’s meals service goes to 75 city schools and is currently providing around 3,500 weekly food parcels – with each parcel containing ingredients for five lunches per child.

Over the border in County Durham, eligible children are also receiving food parcels.

“We know how important it is for children to have fresh, tasty and nutritious food during the school day,” said Richard Crane, head of education and skills at Durham County Council.

“The standardised food within weekly hampers is specified in line with the Local Authority Catering Association guidance.

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“Children normally receiving free school meals are currently being provided with food to create lunches for five days a week, regardless of whether or not they are currently in school or at home.

“This is an interim measure which was organised at short notice following the announcement of the latest national lockdown on Monday, January 4.

“The national free school meals allocation to schools is £11.50 per child, per week and, as well as going towards the purchasing of food, the cost includes packaging and delivery.

“Schools are given menus showing how the food in each box can be used to create five healthy, nutritionally balanced lunches.

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“We are awaiting further information on the roll out of the national voucher scheme from the Government which is urgently required to resolve some of the concerns raised.”

South Tyneside Council, which covers the Whitburn, Boldon and Cleadon areas bordering Sunderland to the north, has stressed their food parcels contain a “generous, balanced mix” of items to help children “learn effectively.”

A council spokesman said: “We prepare our own food parcels and have delivered around 1,000 parcels to South Tyneside families entitled to free school meals since September.

“We have not had a single complaint. When demand is exceptionally high we outsource to a North East-based food wholesaler.

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“Our parcels contain a generous, balanced mix of fruit, vegetables and protein-packed items aimed at boosting children’s concentration levels to help them learn effectively.”

In a recent tweet, anti-poverty campaigner Marcus Rashford said he had spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson about his concerns over the free school meal food parcels, and said the PM had promised a “full review” of the supply chain.

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