What is inside free school meals boxes in the North East

Councils in the North East have revealed what is inside the food parcels distributed to families eligible for free school meals during lockdown.

This comes after furious parents shared photographs of Free School Meals boxes sent out during lockdown.

Food parcels supplied to children being schooled at home during the coronavirus lockdown have sparked outrage, with one mum claiming she was sent just a few pounds-worth of food to feed her children for 10 days.

Child poverty campaigner and footballer Marcus Rashford and celebrated budget cooking author Jack Monroe are leading the demand for answers from the Government and its private suppliers.

But, in a post on Facebook, Gateshead Council said the boxes it had been providing to parents were balanced, and could provide between five and 10 days of lunches.

On its page the authority shared a photo of what would go into a typical box (above).

Eligible families in the borough will receive boxes containing fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as soup, cheese, pasta, tins of tuna and bread.

A menu sheet has also been included to give parents meal ideas.

The authority wrote: « There’s a lot of talk today – and a lot of concern – about the quantity and quality of food provided to some children on free school meals who are not in school.

« Our photos show the food packs provided by us for parents to prepare five and 10 meals (that’s one and two weeks of free school meals).

« There’s also a menu sheet showing what five or 10 meals can be prepared using the food in each pack. As you’ll see, there’s fresh fruit and veg as well as soup, cheese, pasta, tins of tuna and bread. »

« We’ve been careful to ensure that each meal on the menu is nutritionally-balanced and suitable for a growing child, and a typical example of a lunchtime meal would be something hot like scrambled eggs on toast with cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber and carrot sticks, a pear, a pot of yoghurt and a drink.

« Packs are prepared by our brilliant school kitchen staff who have worked throughout the pandemic to make sure the children of key workers and those receiving free school meals get the nutrition they need – and they’ll be doing so for as long as they are needed. »

Meanwhile, families in South Tyneside can expect to receive eggs, beans, semi-skimmed milk, fresh and tinned fruit and vegetables, grated cheese and rice pudding.

A spokesman for South Tyneside Council 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.

« 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. »

Families in Durham are also receiving food boxes.

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

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

“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 4 January.

“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.

“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.”

North Tyneside Council has taken a different approach with families in receipt of free school meals set to get vouchers instead.

Mark Longstaff, head of commissioning and asset management, for the council said: “Provision for those in receipt of free school meals was set up quickly and some suppliers have not been able to provide what was asked for because of the timescales involved and the number of hampers required.

“Whilst there is a national voucher scheme planned by the Government, schools are still awaiting further information about this.

“The council has moved to arrange its own voucher scheme for parents whose school meals are provided by North Tyneside Council.

“This follows the successful scheme over Christmas in which families in receipt of free school meals were issued with vouchers.”

It is understood that in Newcastle the majority of schools issue food vouchers or pack lunches to families entitled to help.

A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: “School meals provide a vital source of nutrition for many pupils and we know that nationally there have been a number of concerns over whether children are missing out on this due to lockdown.

“We are working closely with headteachers and school meal providers to ensure that children who would normally receive a free school meal continue to receive sufficient and nutritious food while they are learning from home.

“In many cases, schools in Newcastle are issuing food vouchers to families and we have produced information and tips for family meal planning – including meals on a budget. This can be found at https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/citylife-news/lifestyle/top-tips-help-families-manage-meals-budget.

“Where schools get their meals through the council’s in-house meals provider, pupils have been provided with packed lunches. These meet school food standards and typically contain a sandwich, a savoury snack, a piece of fruit or yoghurt, a sweet item such as a flapjack, fruit cookie or muffin and a drink of milk, juice or water.

“A small number of schools receive their meals through private catering providers. At these schools, food parcels have been distributed and there have been no issues reported by these schools.

“We are not aware of any concerns or problems with these temporary arrangements or with the food that has been provided. We remain in close contact with our schools and providers to ensure children are not let down.”

In Northumberland 95% of schools issue electronic vouchers that can be redeemed in nine different supermarkets to families in receipt of free school meals.

The remaining schools have made their own arrangements to provide food to families.

What is inside free school meals boxes in the North East
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