Video report by ITV News Midlands Correspondent Ben Chapman
Images circulated on social media have revealed “woefully inadequate” free school meal parcels sent to families, including a £30 parcel estimated to contain just over £5 worth of food.
Twitter user Roadside Mum posted the image, commenting: “2 days jacket potato with beans, 8 single cheese sandwiches, 2 days carrots, 3 days apples, 2 days soreen, 3 days frubes.
“Spare pasta & tomato. Will need mayo for pasta salad.
“Issued instead of £30 vouchers. I could do more with £30 to be honest.”
She estimated the cost of the food in the package at £5.22 based on prices at Asda.
Chartwell, the company that allegedly supplied Roadside Mum's box, said after investigating the matter, where food parcels have "not met our usual high standards" they will be refunding the cost.
A spokesperson for Chartwells said: "We will be contacting every school to understand where any shortages may have occurred and we will apologise to anyone affected.
"From Monday 15th January we will ensure our food hampers reflect the additional £3.50 funding allocation communicated by the government and that every penny goes into the provision of the food."
Food writer Jack Monroe talks to ITV News about the food box anger
The firm's website says their £23 food hamper for two weeks contains a block of cheese, 14 portions of fruit, 16 portions of vegetables, a kilogram bag of penne pasta, four chopped tomato tins, two tins of tuna, one loaf of bread and nine healthy snacks.
The food in Roadside Mum's photo falls remarkably short of these requirements.
Other users posted similar images.
Footballer and campaigner Marcus Rashford tweeted another picture and wrote: “3 days of food for 1 family… Just not good enough.
“Then imagine we expect the children to engage in learning from home.
“Not to mention the parents who, at times, have to teach them who probably haven’t eaten at all so their children can… We MUST do better.”
A mum from March, Cambridgeshire received this package for her son - but even this amount of food included a top-up from the school.
Kirsty Peacock told ITV News: "I’m very grateful to my son's school for the effort they have put in - separate from the government - with local businesses to ensure that their children are fed.
"If it weren’t for their efforts over previous years then this parcel would have been even worse.
"Taking away autonomy from parents who are often more resourceful at stretching budgets is, frankly, backwards.
"I budget stringently and know what I can get for the equivalent cost of school dinners per week, and there's absolutely no way that whoever has planned this parcel understands what can be bought or what families need.
"I would be happy to sit down with the people who planned these parcels and teach them proper budgeting and meal planning skills."
Lisa Tanner uploaded a photo showing food repackaged in money bags, a small carrot segment and half a tomato wrapped in cling film.
"Our school was disgusted by our caterers! Food in money bags!!! Pathetic carrot stub," she wrote.
It is unclear which company supplied the parcels in the above two photos.
Naomi Willis, from money-saving site Skint Dad, said members of her network have also been sharing pictures of inadequate food parcels.
"While it seems that some food parcels have been good quality, there is a distinct lack of consistency, compared to the previous voucher scheme," she said."This is adding additional pressure to struggling parents and is letting down children who are caught in the middle."The scheme needs to be reviewed immediately to ensure that all children are provided with enough food or reintroduce the previous voucher scheme today."
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described the situation as “a disgrace”.
He tweeted: “The images appearing online of woefully inadequate free school meal parcels are a disgrace.
“Where is the money going? This needs sorting immediately so families don’t go hungry through lockdown.”
Downing Street has said the contents of some free school meal food parcels sent to families is “completely unacceptable” and that the government is urgently looking into the issue.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “We’re aware of those images circulating on social media, and it is clear that the contents of those food parcels are completely unacceptable.
“The Department for Education is looking into this urgently and the Minister for Children, Vicky Ford, is speaking to the company responsible and they will be making it clear that boxes like this should not be given to families.”
The spokesman said the national free school meals voucher scheme would shortly be reopened.Vicky Ford reiterated that she would be “urgently” look into the matter, while also defending the use of parcels instead of vouchers for families in need.
She tweeted: “One of the reasons why some schools have used food parcels rather than vouchers is that it helps keep them in touch with families.
“Very sadly during the pandemic there has been an increase in risk to some children. Do call @NSPCC If you are concerned about a child.”
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said Ms Ford has been "working flat out to get food to families who need it".
"Those parcels didn't look the most generous that I've seen in the past," he said.
"The minister concerned, Vicky Ford, who is working flat out to get food to families who need it, is investigating that very urgently.
"Let's hope that they get to the bottom of it quite soon."
What can a £30 food voucher buy?
Kirsty Peacock, whose food parcel photo can be seen above, has produced a meal plan with a £29.92 total cost.
Kirsty's plan covers five evening meals and sandwiches. All prices reflect those of an online grocery shop at Tesco.
Winter lentil stew (eight servings)
Spaghetti bolognese (four servings)
Jacket potatoes (four servings)
Kirsty also suggested four servings of garlic noodles with beef and broccoli. The main ingredients are spaghetti, minced beef, garlic and broccoli - the meal's total cost is £11.54
Fried rice is another evening meal option - this comes up to £4.84. Rice, chicken, carrots, eggs, and frozen peas are the key products involved.
Kirsty allowed for the remainder of the £30 to be spent on ingredients for sandwiches.