Salmon and paprika potatoes are off the menu with pupils now having to choose between a lunch of soup and a sandwich or a baked potato as food driver shortages and recruitment problems bite.
Nearly 500 primary schools in Lancashire are offering a cut-back menu for two weeks to allow kitchens a chance to restock as supplies were disrupted this week.
Jacquie Blake, chair at Lead Association for Caterers in Education (LACA), said about 80 per cent of its members faced some disruption, but a “hot, healthy meal” was still available.
However, children in some areas have no choice but sandwiches.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) will now seek feedback from headteachers on how widespread problems are, and raise it with the government if needed.
Zoe McIntyre, from Food Foundation which is helping to lead Marcus Rashford’s #endchildfoodpoverty campaign, said: ‘With the combined effects of the cut in Universal Credit and rising food and fuel bills there is no doubt millions of families are facing increased levels of food poverty.
‘Worrying’ to see schools having to cut back
“We know that children need hot and nourishing food in order to learn and thrive and seeing schools having to cut back on what they are serving the kids is increasingly worrying in the current crisis.”
In Lancashire, a typical three-choice menu can vary from sausages with creamed potatoes, broccoli and carrots to crispy bubble-coated salmon with paprika potatoes, green beans and carrots. Both are followed by a dessert.
But now this is limited to two main choices for the 65,000 pupils who receive meals: soup and a sandwich or a baked potato with a variety of fillings. There is also a salad bar, fresh fruit, yoghurt, desserts, organic milk and drinking water (see picture).
Jayne Rear, an education cabinet member on the county council, said there had been national “issues with food supply chains” caused by a shortage of delivery drivers and food industry workers.
“We are working hard to minimise the effect on our schools, but in some instances we may need to offer a reduced menu compared to our usual large choice.”
The council said that all of its suppliers were local and three-quarters of the food it bought was produced in the UK. It was experiencing problems because of the size of its customer base –it is the country’s fourth largest local authority – and the volume of meals served every day.
Many schools altering menus
Blake said Lancashire was the only example of widespread disruption, but many schools were altering menus.
“If you did not receive apples for an apple crumble, you could make a pear crumble. The standards are still there, the menus are just being tweaked.”
In June, Schools Week reported that school meals could be disrupted as a driver shortage, fuelled by Brexit and Covid, put deliveries at risk. This was followed by a nationwide petrol shortage.
Blake said the disruption was also a result of recruitment and retention issues, especially among chefs, and disclosing and barring service (DBS) checks taking weeks to clear.
Schools were also facing long waits for kitchen equipment, such as a new oven, to arrive. This could take up to six weeks in some places.
At Great Academy Ashton, in Tameside, only sandwiches and toasted paninis have been offered since the beginning of the school year, following a delay in the arrival of new catering equipment.
10-week delay for catering equipment
David Waugh, the academy’s principal, said the equipment was ordered in May and was expected to take four to six weeks. Instead, it took between ten and 14, but hot food was due to start again on Monday.
Three other schools in the north west have had reduced menus – from four choices to two and a picnic bag – because of Covid-related illnesses, catering firm Dolce said.
Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said while it had not heard “too much” from schools about supply issues, any delays on fresh food would be a “serious concern and would need to be urgently resolved”.
Hayley Dunn, the business leadership specialist at ASCL, added: “Any disruption to food supplies is obviously concerning, particularly if it begins to impact on the quality, range and healthiness of school meals.”
Roy McKenzie, from the Road Haulage Association, said “no sector is exempt” from a shortage of lorry drivers.