Vegan food on school menu in Government’s hot dinner initiative

State to spend €1m on pilot project to feed 7,200 children in 36 primary schools

Minister Regina Doherty says ‘the provision of adequate and nutritious meals for a child’s health, learning, attention and educational achievement is invaluable’. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister Regina Doherty says ‘the provision of adequate and nutritious meals for a child’s health, learning, attention and educational achievement is invaluable’. File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Children will have the option of a vegan or vegetarian school dinner as part of a pilot project to provide hot dinners to 7,200 children in 36 primary schools, starting in September.

Meals that cater for pupils’ religious and cultural dietary requirements will also be on the menu.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty has written to all primary schools looking for expressions of interest in the initiative to provide a daily hot meal to pupils.

The existing school meals programme funds dinners or lunches to 250,000 children in 1,580 schools at a cost to the exchequer that has risen from €35 million in 2012 to €57.6 million last year. The pilot project will cost €1 million this year and €2.5 million in 2020.

The Minister is looking for expressions of interest from schools to source suppliers. Pupils’ families will not be asked for additional contributions towards school meals.

Each primary school involved in the project will be expected to provide a menu choice of at least two different meals per day as well as a vegetarian/vegan option and choice catering for students’ religious and cultural dietary requirements.

Nutrition standards

To be considered for the project a primary school will have to identify a supplier to prepare and deliver the hot meals in line with food safety regulations and in compliance with Healthy Ireland’s nutrition standards for school meals. Healthy Ireland is a Government-led initiative to improve the physical and mental health of everyone living in Ireland.

The pilot project is based on a “proof-of-concept” project run by one school – Our Lady of Lourdes National School in Inchicore, Dublin – since January this year, providing 250 pupils with a hot meal at lunchtime every day.

Ms Doherty said the proof-of-concept scheme showed it was possible to provide hot meals in schools that do not have kitchen or canteen facilities. It also showed it was possible to meet special dietary requirements of all children in the pilot project.

The pre-pilot scheme also tried out various menus, identified pupil preferences, assessed age appropriate portions and looked at special dietary requirements.

‘Invaluable’

“The provision of adequate and nutritious meals for a child’s health, learning, attention and educational achievement is invaluable” and a priority for Government, the Minister said.

“I believe that the provision of hot food services in schools guarantees ongoing positive returns on public investment in the health and educational performance of future generations.”

All expressions of interest received by the June 12th deadline will be considered by the Department of Social Protection and 36 schools will be selected to participate.