Thursday, 25th March 2021

  • Programme to be rolled out in 189 primary schools across the country
  • Research  finds programme impact positively on students’ attendance and physical and mental wellbeing
  • Minister Humphreys announces that School Meals Funding will continue during the Easter holidays

Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys TD, has today launched the Hot School Meals Programme 2021, which will benefit some 35,000 pupils in 189 primary schools.

As part of Budget 2021, Minister Humphreys secured an additional €5.5 million for the extension of the Hot School Meals Programme to primary school pupils who had been availing of the cold lunch only.Following expressions of interest and a selection process, 189 schools, including 171 DEIS schools, have been chosen.  The hot meals will be available to all pupils enrolled in the 189 primary schools, which do not have canteen/kitchen facilities on site.

The hot meal will replace the cold lunch which has been in place to date.  Each school must identify a supplier who will supply (prepare and deliver) the hot meals in line with the relevant food safety regulations and in compliance with Healthy Ireland ‘Nutrition Standards for Hot School Meals.  Schools will be expected to provide a menu choice of at least two different meals per day plus a vegetarian/vegan option, as well as an option that caters for pupils’ religious and cultural dietary requirements.

The process of selecting the schools reflects a geographical spread across all local authority areas, taking into consideration pupil numbers, the level of interest and the available budget.The Hot School Meals Programme is part of the overall School Meals Programme, which provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,557 schools and organisations benefitting 227,000 children.

Minister Rabbitte welcomed the news commenting:

The scheme was originally launched as a pilot availed of by 6,600 was clearly proved the concept.  I am delighted to see the scheme rolled out to 35,000 children today.

 Informally launching the scheme, Minister Humphreys said:

Our school children have shown extraordinary resilience over the past 12 months amid huge disruption caused to their lives by Covid-19.

The Hot School Meals Programme is an important initiative in terms of a child’s wellbeing and nutrition. It is also known to facilitate better education outcomes.

When the scheme was initially launched as a pilot, it was availed of by 6,600 children in 37 schools.

From today, the Hot School Meals Programme will support 35,000 children in 189 schools in every city and county in the country.

I wish to thank the schools involved in the project and acknowledge their ongoing cooperation with the Department to ensure its delivery.

Research of the Hot Meals Pilot Project

Also, today, was published the ‘Research Report of the Hot Meals Pilot’, which was carried out on behalf of the Department and completed in July 2020.  The purpose of this piece of research was to gain an insight into the impact of the project from the perspective of parents, teachers, SNAs, principals and food suppliers.  The research includes ratings of the hot meals provided during the pilot project, as well as its value, implementation and administration.  It also considered the impact that the project had on food waste and green schools.

 The research found:

  • Overall the hot meals are rated highly in terms of quality, choice, portion sizes, dietary requirements and nutritional value;
  • Two-thirds of teachers/SNAs said the pilot project had a positive impact on a child’s diet;
  • Over two-thirds of teachers/SNAs and principals rated the hot meals as better quality than the food children ate previously;
  • Three in five parents strongly agree that their children enjoyed taking part.

The findings of this research will be used to help the Department make decisions about the future of the Programme.

Minister Humphreys commented:

This research has found that the Hot School Meals pilot project has had a very positive impact on children’s attendance at school, as well as their physical health and psychological wellbeing.

Overall, the results were encouraging with the majority of parents, teachers and SNAs rating the hot meals as better quality than the food their students previously ate.

This demonstrates the importance of expanding the Hot School Meals Programme to a record number of children.

 Funding for School Meals Programme to continue during the Easter holidays

Minister Humphreys also announced today that funding under the School Meals Programme will continue during the upcoming Easter holidays for primary and second-level schools.

 She continued:

Before the Pandemic, funding for the School Meals Programme had been confined to the academic year.

However, in response to Covid, my Department has ensured that this vital support has continued throughout, regardless of whether schools were open or not.

I want to reassure schools and parents that funding for the Programme will continue during the upcoming Easter break from 29th March to April 9th.

Ensuring funding for the School Meals Programme – across both the school terms and holiday periods – offers security for children who rely on this important support.

Further information

The School Meals Programme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,557 schools and organisations benefitting 227,000 children. The objective of the Programme is to provide regular, nutritious food to children who are unable, due to lack of good quality food, to take full advantage of the education provided to them. The Programme is an important component of policies to encourage school attendance and extra educational achievement.