5th July 2023: A state of the nation review of school meal provision across the UK has shown that the ability to have a hot meal is the top reason why over 84% of pupils have a school meal at least once a week and 58% have one every day.
The results also reveal that of the quarter of respondents (24%) who were entitled to free school meals (FSM), 88% were using them and 93% stated that school meals improved the quality of life for them and/or their children.
Nearly two thirds of these parents (64%) said they would continue to choose school meals, regardless of whether or not they qualified for FSM, highlighting the value families place in school meal provision.
Chris Schroeder, managing director, catering division at ParentPay Group, said: “Household budgets are being squeezed by the cost of living. Despite this, our report shows that parents continue to prioritise school lunches.
“Schools and their caterers have done a phenomenal job providing quality, nutritional and appealing meals for all children and young people against a backdrop of soaring food, energy and labour costs.”
Parents prioritised school meals to give their child a hot, nutritionally balanced lunch, for convenience and the opportunities school meals offered to introduce their children to new foods.
The key factors parents took into consideration when assessing the quality of school meals included the variety of foods on offer (78%), nutritional value (52%), how appetising meals were (50%) and adherence to appropriate food standards (46%).
Increasing the uptake of school meals
Nearly 8 in 10 parents said more themed meals would increase their uptake of school meals, with foods related to Eid, Chinese New Year and Christmas most popular with more than half (54%) of respondents.
68% said the hot meals available in their child’s school were priced appropriately and more than half (56%) of parents whose children went to a school that did not offer a breakfast club said they would be willing to pay extra for this.
The benefits of pre-ordering
Of those parents who had the option to pre-order school meals in advance, nearly 80% said their children received the meal they had chosen. In contrast, more than half of parents (53%) whose children did not have the option to pre-order said they did not regularly get the meal they wanted.
Many more parents of secondary school-aged children (61%) wanted to order school meals digitally or online, which is up 10 percentage points from 2022.
Chris Schroeder, managing director, catering division at ParentPay Group, said: “Giving parents and students the option to pre-order food online means school kitchens can see what meals they need to produce in advance. They can then cook to order, saving money on ingredients and reducing food wastage. It’s easier to design menus around the availability of quality ingredients too, which means good meal choices and value for money for families.”
Many parents indicated they would like more information on meal provision from their child’s school. 60% of all respondents wanted to view weekly menus in advance – up eight percentage points from 2022 – and 64% of primary school parents wanted more details of what their child had eaten the previous week.
Commenting on the report findings, Brad Pearce, chair of LACA, said: “A huge number of parents responded to this year’s survey, which has become a rich source of information school caterers can use to identify and respond to the shifting trends in school meal uptake.
“With more than half of all children having a school meal every day, we encourage all schools and caterers to continue to work together to create practical and beautiful dining spaces where children can enjoy tasty, nutritious and appealing meals, while spending quality time with their friends away from the classroom.
“We are delighted to share this insight from ParentPay Group on what parents think about and value when choosing school meals for their children and continue to support our members in delivering this for the growing number of families who rely on the fantastic school meals they produce every day.”
Cath Holmes, area catering manager at Kirklees Council, said: “As a caterer, the report provides some useful information as to what parents think about school meals and what caterers can do to improve their service and uptake of meals. I think it also provides sound evidence of the value of school meals, regardless of being paid or free.”
For more information and to download the full report free of charge visit: https://www.parentpay.com/cypad/national-school-meals-report-2023/