The School Meals Programme provides funding towards provision of food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes: The urban school meals scheme and the school meals (local projects) scheme.
The Urban School Meals Scheme for primary schools is operated and administered by Local Authorities and is part-financed by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The type of food provided under the Urban School Meals Scheme is decided by individual schools and agreed with the Local Authorities.
The school meals (local projects) scheme provides funding towards the provision of food to some 1,580 schools and organisations benefitting 250,000 children. The objective of the scheme 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.
The ‘Nutrition Standards for School Meals’, which was published in September 2017 under the auspices of Healthy Ireland, is a valuable resource to enable and promote healthy eating and healthy lifestyles in schools. These standards complement and strengthen the healthy eating guidelines that were already in place. The standards were introduced commencing from January 2018 and all schools participating in the school meals scheme are expected to fully comply with these standards from September 2018.
In terms of assessing whether schools meet the requirements set out in Healthy Ireland guides and the Obesity Policy and Action Plan, schools and organisations must reapply for funding in advance of each school year and are required to submit detailed records at the end of each school year. Expenditure on unhealthy food items is deducted from the funding allocation.
In addition, the Department initiated an on-site inspection programme in 2012 to ensure that the scheme rules are being adhered to including an assessment of the type of food provided. My Department recently introduced service level agreements with all participating schools and organisations which sets out the responsibilities of participants.