Up to 7,000 extra pupils are eating school lunches every day in Sheffield as a result of the free meals scheme introduced this term by the Government.
City education chiefs say the commitment to a free lunch for every infant-age child is being met in full - but hitting the target has been the biggest challenge ever faced by the school meals service.
Only nine schools out of over 120 are having to ship in meals from other primaries because of inadequate kitchen facilities, but seven of those are academies or faith schools outside council control.
Main catering contractor Taylor Shaw says it is cooking up to 20,000 meals a day, up from 13,000 last term.
It expects take-up of the free lunches among infants to be 85 to 90 per cent, and has taken on 130 new part-time staff to work in city schools.
Leah Barratt, the council’s school meals service manager, said £1.5 million - £400,000 of council funds, the rest a Government grant - had been spent upgrading facilities at 98 schools.
“The sums vary, from £242,000 on a new kitchen and dining room at Loxley Primary to £160 to provide two new fridges at another.
“We only began planning last November for what has been our biggest ever project. Fortunately we were already in a better position than many authorities as we started work to improve our kitchens in 2011, with 21 tackled in three years.”
Taylor Shaw general manager Peter McGrath said the quality of the meals had to be high because, if not, children wouldn’t eat them, free or not.
“We feel we’ve invested the money wisely. The two schools still without kitchens, Broomhill Infants and Hunters Bar Infants, are on very cramped sites and will take a lot of money to improve,” he said.
“These are investments which will benefit our schools for 20 years. It is hard to predict what final demand will be - it could be junior children will take more meals too as families may be better able to afford them.”
Mrs Barratt said there had been pressure on the city to meet the commitment, with key supporter Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg a local MP.
“Twenty years ago we were removing school kitchens due to budget cuts, so thing have come full circle.”