Free school meals for children under seven real food for thought

editorial image
Have your say

Yuck - school dinners are expensive, unhealthy and not nice. That was the observation from the back of the car when the radio presenter announced the latest political move - free school meals for children under seven.

My son has got a point. If you ask any child what they ate at school on any particular day it is clear that Jamie Oliver’s mission for healthy food wasn’t a complete success. However, at the age of seven I’m pretty sure the fact my son prefers sandwiches is more to do with it allowing him to get out to play quicker, than the quality of the dishes.

But put aside the pink custard, yoghurt with a shortbread biscuit, and mashed potato dished out using an ice-cream scoop that most of us suffered as kids and there is something much more serious at stake. I know too many teachers working in our city who see real deprivation and genuine hunger in the faces of children every day.

I have heard too many tales like the school which has to keep a pair of shoes in the classroom for the boy who gets sent barefoot; the little ones who bring just a packet of crisps for lunch and say they have to save half for their tea; and the parents who fail to care for their families in a way most of us would find acceptable, simply because they never experienced that care themselves and just don’t understand how to do it.

Really? In Sheffield in 2013? It is enough to make you weep.

Now I’m not saying that a free hot lunch will end child hunger but it will help the estimated four in 10 children living in poverty who do not qualify for free school meals.

Obviously there is room for discussion about whether millionaires’ children should get the same deal as those who are penniless but aren’t we slightly missing the point? Every parent and teacher will tell you that hungry children are more likely to misbehave, can’t concentrate or learn.

Making sure they’re fed is so simple it would be silly to do anything else. But it is a funny thing politics. One decade’s popular policy so easily becomes another’s target for cuts. Forgive the irony but free bottles of milk for all primary children seems another great way to boost the health of a nation.

Of course, it must be served warm or so frozen the iced-milk expands and pushes off the aluminium lid - depending on the weather. Being milk monitor was a temporary badge of pride for a generation, I wonder if the free meals policy will last longer?