PARENTS have reacted angrily to the news that Wrexham Council is tightening up on how much it spends on school meals.
Rising food costs and the number of children bringing in packed lunches are behind a projected £270,000 overspend in the authority’s budget for school catering.
The council is planning to make savings in school kitchens across the county borough.
Portion sizes are just one of the areas earmarked for “efficiencies” along with staff hours, food supply orders and stock/waste control.
Angry parents took to the Leader’s Facebook page to express their concern at the news.
Liz Griffiths said: “I think the cost of school meals is disgusting for the size portion; my eldest gets £3 a day for school meals and all that gets her is a small baguette or pizza slice and a drink.”
Gina Walker wrote: “Why not go back to the old way, a good hot meat and two veg with a pudding; at least we were never left hungry. The stuff they get now is a very small piece of whatever and costs the earth and not only that, one hour later they are hungry again as the food they get does not fill them up for long.”
Suzanne Prescott seemed to sum up the feeling. She said: “If more healthy, hearty meals were made then it would work out cheaper and children could get a decent portion.
“Dinners aren’t that healthy and nutritious at the moment and to pay over £2 for what is currently on offer is ridiculous. My child takes a packed lunch, which I know she’ll eat, is filling and doesn’t cost a fortune.”
Steve Bayley, head of assets and economic development at Wrexham Council, said: “The projected overspend in school catering relates to two main factors: increases in the cost of raw materials and a reduction in the expected income from school meals.
“The efficiencies referred to in the report relate to the need to tighten up on the amount spent on food supplies, reduce waste and match staff hours to the service needs.
“The priority of the service must, however, always be to provide pupils with healthy and nutritional meal choices.”
WHAT the Dickens is going on?
The revelation that Wrexham Council’s proposed measures for balancing the books on the school meals service include reducing portion sizes has more than a whiff of Oliver Twist about it.
Given the historically unsavoury reputation of school dinners, it is of course debatable whether a significant number of pupils would ever be inclined to ask for more.
But then that is hardly the point. True, the long-standing wrangle about the nutritional value of what goes on the plates in school dining rooms shows little sign of winding up, as the substance of the comments this story has generated among parents offering their opinions on the Leader Facebook page proves.
Suffice to say, education authorities can argue persuasively that they are placed in an impossible position. Offer children the kind of menus they prefer and they are accused of feeding them junk.
Or switch to healthier options and – as the Jamie Oliver experiment over the border in England has proved – far too many simply refuse to eat them and so parents send them to school with packed lunches instead.
And along with rising food costs, such a development has contributed to the £270,000 shortfall in Wrexham’s school catering budget, which is at the root of the current cost-cutting proposals.
However we are in danger of digressing. The nutritional value of meals is irrefutably of paramount importance, but the immediate issue here is quantity rather than quality.
One would be entitled to assume that the size of portions being loaded on to school dinner plates in Wrexham – as anywhere else – is determined by the ages
and respective dietary requirements of the children to whom they are being served.
In which case, one can logically conclude that should these quantities be reduced, then their nutritional needs are no longer being fully met.
Steve Bayley, Wrexham Council’s head of assets and economic development and the man faced with the tricky task of finding a solution to the financial problem, insists the school catering service’s priority “must always be to provide pupils with healthy and nutritional meal choices”.
Rhetoric, though, only takes you so far. Parents will surely expect a detailed explanation of how he expects to achieve this aim if they are to be dissuaded from buying new sandwich boxes in the sales.