Middlesbrough Council has faced a backlash from parents who want to see a return of chicken nuggets, pizza and chips to school dinners.
Parents have complained about the adventurous options, lack of choices and small portion sizes following a move by the authority to try and increase fruit and vegetables, reduce sugary items and introduce vegan options.
New items on the menu include stir fry, katsu curry and Quorn korma – with a focus on more meat-free options and healthier alternatives.
A post about the new school meals on Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston’s Facebook page has had more than 400 comments at the time of writing, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
The majority of them criticise the new menus, though the post does also have more than 150 likes.
Mother-of-two, Becky Eason, said her eight-year-old daughter has been repeatedly asking for packed lunches instead of school dinners.
The 36-year-old, who has complained to the council, said: “Some of the meals on the menu itself didn’t feel very child friendly in my opinion.
"It’s not really a choice to give them either Quorn chicken curry or a vegetable lasagna in one day. I don’t think there is much of an option there for them.”
Ms Eason is not against providing alternative options but is worried that her daughter is not eating enough throughout the day, particularly as she drops her off at 7:50am and doesn’t pick her up until after 5pm.
She added: “She was going all day with a biscuit or a small sausage roll, that’s a long time for her not to be eating.
"The kids are coming out saying they can’t concentrate on the work because they are going hungry. Winter is coming and they need a nice wholesome meal.”
Like many parents, Ms Eason is under a significant amount of stress.
She added: “At the minute we have so many worries as parents. We are going out to work so we are paying for childcare options.
“Then, worrying about when my daughter is at school is she having anything to eat. We are worrying about fuel prices. We are worrying about cost of living with prices of food.
“It’s not a nice feeling to be sat at work thinking what is she having to eat today. Then coming home to her being upset and wanting feeding straight away. It’s just another stress on your mind you don’t need.”
The menus will change every four weeks with the seasons.
There are two hot options each day or children can visit the pasta bar, the salad bar or have jacket potato with filling or a sandwich, sub-roll or wrap, among other options.
It comes as around one in 10 children are obese when they start school in Middlesbrough, and that figure shoots up to one in five once they are in Year 6.
The town has a larger proportion of severely obese, and overweight children than the North East and England average.
Fellow mum Kelly Doolan is also frustrated at the new school menus. She said: “My two older girls (aged five and 10) are constantly coming home hungry because they’ve either not had enough or haven’t liked the food that’s on offer. The portions aren’t big enough.
“They both constantly ask for packed lunches but with four kids I honestly can’t afford to do so as they all like different things.
"Times are hard as it is. It’s the kids that are suffering they need to bring back the foods kids love like nuggets, pizza, and chips. They can still add the veg and salad and fruit.”
However, some of those to comment on the mayor’s post were in favour of the changes.
Cllr Barrie Cooper, Middlesbrough Council’s executive member for environment, has previously said: “We are sure these new revamped menus will be popular with both children and their parents.
“They have been designed to improve the options available to our little learners and to make sure they are getting plenty of fruit and vegetables and a little less sugar, while also making sure all their favourites remain.”
Middlesbrough Council has been contacted for comment.
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