School meals are 'moving towards crisis'

Just as families are hit by rising bills, ITV News' new findings show school meal services face their own cost crunch, Chris Choi reports.

New research for ITV News shows rising food and energy costs are leaving school meals services struggling to cope.  

As a result, many parents are being charged more and schools are having to consider more processed foods. 

At Town Field Primary in Doncaster the head teacher, Helena Honeybone, told us ingredient costs have increased by more than a third over the last year.

“It’s a really scary time, we don’t want to pass on those costs to families - we don’t feel we can ethically do that at the moment,” she said. 

A new survey covered more than 8,000 schools in England and Wales.

Conducted for ITV News by the Local Authority Caterers Association, it shows: 

  • Rising ingredient costs mean 51% of caterers have increased school meal prices since 2020. 

  • The average weekly cost is expected to reach £13.25 this year - that’s an 18% rise in three years. 

  • Over 50% of school caterers fear they won’t meet present standards in coming months.

Schools have said government funding for free meals lags far behind cost increases. Credit: PA

Helen Fifoot, the head of catering operations for Doncaster City Council, told us: “This is now moving towards a crisis, household budgets are so challenged.

"It is so important children get a hot meal at lunchtime. We’ve had to look at menus, we’ve had to reduce choice to look at costs.”

Schools tell us government funding for free meals lags far behind cost increases - intensifying pressure on budgets. 

A spokesperson for the Department For Education told us core funding for schools is up £4 billion this year and it’s trialling new ways to support nutritious meals.

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