Children in every primary school in Waterford will receive hot school meals by 2030 if not sooner as part of a landmark plan announced by Government, Fine Gael Senator John Cummins has said.
Senator Cummins further welcomed plans for the Hot School meals Programme to be extended to all DEIS primary schools in Waterford from September.
Senator Cummins said: “School Meals have a hugely positive effect on children’s health and wellbeing, which was reaffirmed in a report published yesterday by my colleague, Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys.
“The independent evaluation recommended that hot school meals be extended to all DEIS primary schools from September, in addition to one free hot meal for every child in Ireland to be introduced on a phased basis by 2030.
“I’m delighted that Minister Humphreys is implementing the recommendations with a massive expansion of the hot school meals programme, which means by the end of this year, 1,000 schools nationwide will be receiving hot meals.
“From 2024, the roll-out of hot meals to all remaining primary schools will start on a phased basis, with an ambition by Minister Humphreys to move faster to have this implemented before the recommended timeframe of 2030. When the Minister was appointed to her role in June 2020, there were just 30 schools receiving hot school meals, but today, almost 500 benefit from the hot school meals programme.”
Senator Cummins continued: “Research indicates that the provision of school meals resulted in improvements in attendance in school, with evidence that providing children with food in school is making a difference to families in terms of money saved, and for some families, in time saved on food preparation.
“This was also articulated by parents and teachers who spoke of the benefits of young students having a hot school meal in the middle of the day. There will also be an increase in school meals rate for providers, which will be backdated to January 1st 2023.”
Speaking following the announcement, Minister Humphreys said: “Providing nutritious meals to our children at school is about so much more than food. It helps a child make the most of their education and their childhood.
“This evaluation is evidence-based and sets out a series of recommendations for expanding the School Meals Programme into the future. The overarching recommendation is that every child should get one free hot meal.
Minister Humphreys continued “Given we have already expanded from 30 to 1,000 schools in just over two and a half years, I believe we can reach all primary schools sooner than that. In the coming weeks, my Department will invite expressions of interests from all remaining primary schools countrywide. My ambition is that a child born in Ireland today will be guaranteed access to a Hot Meal by the time they start school.”
Senator John Cummins concluded “The Department will invite expressions of interest for remaining schools who wish to participate in the hot school meals programme and I would urge Waterford schools to engage in that process”.