Welfare Minister Heather Humphreys has pledged to provide free hot school meals to all school going children by 2030.
A proposal for a government commission to evaluate the state’s school feeding program has received ministerial support, reports RTE.
The minister also acknowledged their other key findings; Free hot school meals should be provided to school children in every disadvantaged primary school starting next September, and rates for the wider School Meals Program should be increased.
Minister Humphreys said: “”Providing nutritious meals …. does wonders for our children’s wellbeing, their concentration and their physical and mental health. We know this because we have gone out to schools and asked the children about the difference it makes,” reports RTE.
The school meals program has an annual budget of over €94 million and benefits over 260,000 children.
The Minister released the report prepared by RSM Ireland today.
Schools or providers currently receive 60 cents per child for breakfast.
Breakfast usually includes a piece of cereal or wholemeal bread with fruit and milk or yogurt.
The headmistress of a primary school in Limerick said she was “all for” the extension of hot meals for students in all DEIS schools, reports RTE.
Speaking to RTÉ Today with Claire Byrne, Tracey Tobin, from St Michael’s Infant School, said growth spurts occur between the ages of four and 12 and there are now many children who are living in precarious circumstances.
She said that hot meals at school would give all children an equal opportunity to make the most of their education.
She said children are staying in school longer for after-school activities and hot mid-day meals are more important than ever.
Ms Tobin also said the introduction of hot meals at her school has made a significant difference and parents are pleased to know what nutrition their children are getting.
However, an economic and social analyst from Social Justice Ireland said that they were not in favor of making the scheme a universal scheme.
Talking about the same programme, Colette Bennett said that it should be a more focused plan.
She said it would make more sense to expand the program to secondary schools in DEIS than to extend the offer of hot meals to all primary school students.
Bennett said that children who don’t need hot meals at DEIS elementary school at age 12 or 13 don’t need meals at secondary school.
Suzanne Connolly, CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s, said the introduction of free meals for all school children was “long overdue” and she welcomed a government-backed proposal to implement it by 2030.
“We know how much children benefit from having proper food in school, for their social and emotional wellbeing and it makes them happier,” Ms Connolly said on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, reports RTE.
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