Schools, food service providers face tough decisions as energy crisis affects children’s meals

School caterers in the UK have warned that rising food costs and supply chain constraints could leave children faced with smaller servings in canteens, where the Low-income families are hardest hit.

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As UK schools reopen for the autumn term, caterers warn that children could face fewer lunch servings and shoddy dishes. as the country’s cost of living crisis flared up.

Food charities say rising food and energy costs are exacerbating existing challenges for school caterers, pushing many to a “limited point” and forcing schools to make a “difficult choice” between classroom heating and meal heating, food charities said.

Energy prices rose rapidly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and amid more limited supply. It made the UK energy regulator raised the annual ceiling on domestic energy bills to 80% last monthand costs are also expected to increase for non-domestic properties such as schools and hospitals.

This increase is piling pressure on school budgets – and especially food allowances – which have already been stretched amid higher labor costs, ongoing supply chain disruptions and after-effects. consequences of school closures caused by Covid.

‘Chaotic times ahead’

The UK Government offers free school meals to all state students aged four to seven in the UK, as well as to older children from low-income families. But when those subsidies aren’t enough to cover food and cooking costs, schools may have to find room in the budget to cover extras — or cuts.

Rob Percival, head of policy for the UK’s food health charity, the Soil Association, told CNBC: “We’re reaching a tipping point. Head teachers are going to be faced with a challenge. hard choices”. “Schools not only have kitchens, but they also have to keep the classrooms warm.”

That could see many schools reduce meal options, switch to lower quality imports and trade hot meals for more energy efficient cold ones, Percival said. Some people have moved away from oven cooking and switched to less expensive microwave cooking methods, he noted.

“It’s likely we’ll see a shift away from hot meals this winter, just when kids need them most,” Percival said.

Catering providers must now be a little leaner and cut from four options to three, or three to two.

Adam Curtis

co-founder, Dolce

Adam Curtis, co-owner of Dolce, a catering company serving around 650 schools across England and Wales, said orders for the first week of term were in line with the term. hopeful, but he is preparing for an uncertain school year.

“There’s no doubt there will be turbulent times ahead,” Curtis said.

In June, the government said that school lunch funding – provided directly to schools, who then often outsource private catering companies – will increase by 7 pence from £2.34 to £2.41 a mealavailable from April 2022. The budget for vehicle-tested free meals is £2.47.

However, food service providers and charities claim the 2.9% increase disproportionately after failing to keep pace with inflation, which has already happened. 40-year high of 10.1% in August.

“You can’t meet that amount,” says Curtis, calling this shortfall the latest setback after years of underfunding. “With inflation, it should be £2.90.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department of Education did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Convert items, cut sections

Indeed, some food service providers have already begun to cut back, with the boss of major British food supplier Bidfood in May warning that schools may have to choose between Reduce portion sizes or use lower quality ingredients.

In a survey conducted last semester, more than three-quarters (78%) of those serving school meals said they had had to reduce their menu choices, according to LACA, the agency that serves school meals. represents school caterers in the UK. More than half (55%) believe that food quality will deteriorate in the new school year if the situation does not improve.

A separate June survey by the Soil Association found that about half (47%) of school meal providers worry that they will not be able to meet legitimate food standards requirements if prices continue to rise. Even more (55%) said they may have to use more processed foods to cut costs.

Food charities have called on the UK government to extend the free school meal scheme to more children as the country’s cost of living crisis deepens.

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Catering providers now have to get a little leaner and cut from four options to three, or three to two, says Curtis.

He added that many schools are increasingly choosing vegetarian food over meat-based dishes, for economic reasons rather than for environmental reasons: “It’s actually less expensive.”

Nutritionist Lucy Upton says failure to provide the right meals that meet food standards can leave children lacking important nutrients such as iron, fiber and vitamin C, and ultimately impair their ability to function. learning ability of children in the classroom.

“Providing well-balanced meals and key nutrients is recognized to be associated with improved educational outcomes, such as end-of-year test scores and even improved school attendance. . Reduce the nutritional quality of school meals and may compromise these benefits,” she said.

Nutritionist Sarah Almond Bushell notes that that can also have dramatic effects on children’s nutritional perceptions as they enter adulthood.

“These formative lessons stay with children for life, meaning they may make fewer healthy food choices as adults and suffer healthy consequences later,” she said.

Calls for free meals extended

Schools and catering groups are now urging the government to extend free school meals to more children, adding to the tray of tasks facing the new prime minister.

LACA has called for vehicle-tested free school meals to be extended to all children whose families earn less than £20,000 ($23,000) a year, instead of the £7,400 threshold after tax currently applied.

The cost of living emergency means it is now more important than ever to expand free school meals.

Jacquie Blake

national president, LACA – The School Food People

“Too many kids are falling through cracks — they don’t get to eat at school, but they get hungry,” Jacquie Blake, country president of LACA, told CNBC. hot meal of the day.

“The cost of living emergency means it’s now more important than ever to expand free school meals,” she added.

According to Zoe McIntyre, project director for children’s right to eat at UK charity The Food Foundation, expanding the scheme could also make school meals – once the center of the day learning – becomes more viable in the long run.

“The best thing we can do right now for catering groups as well as students is to expand eligibility,” McIntyre said. “This will provide the economies of scale needed to make the school meal system financially viable with a positive impact on the quality of school meals.”

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