STRUGGLING families are getting food parcels or vouchers instead of free school meals for their kids during the national lockdown.
But parents and footballer Marcus Rashford have slammed meagre meal replacements by providers, which are said to be worth £30 for two weeks.
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One hungry child this week asked their mum why she'd been put on a diet when she was served up a lunch from their food parcel.
While another mum took to Twitter to share her experience, claiming her bundle was actually worth just £5.22 based on supermarket prices.
It comes as primary and secondary schools have closed until at least February half term following orders by Boris Johnson.
Schools have moved to remote teaching, although they'll stay open for vulnerable children and the children of key workers.
Below we explain how to get the hampers, what they should include and how to complain if they're of a low standard.
How can I apply for free school meal vouchers?
HOW you claim the free school meals depends on where you live.
For example, you can either get a form to fill in from your school, call your local council or fill in an online form.
Start by entering your postcode into the Gov.uk website to see what the process is in your area.
There’s a different process if you live in Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales.
It's worth pointing out that if you claim housing benefit or council tax support you can apply for free school meals when you are filling out your forms.
How do I get free school meals when my child's school is closed?
Families of children who usually qualify for free school meals are eligible for either supermarket vouchers, or food parcels sent to their home.
Schools can also send out food to children using their regular in-house catering team, a local meal delivery service or private catering provider.
Similar to previous lockdowns, it's up to the schools to decide which form of support is offered.
However, the government is urging schools to offer food parcels wherever possible.
Chartwells, the education food service company, is one supplier that has been drafted in to provide parcels from families while schools are closed.
It usually supplies schools with free school meals when they are operational.
Meanwhile, the voucher scheme isn't open yet, but previously schools could order them directly from retailers to email them to families or send via post.
When it does relaunch, the vouchers will be worth £15 per week.
Last year, parents or carers were able to spend vouchers in Aldi, Asda, McColl’s, Morrisons, M&S Food, Sainsbury's, Tesco or Waitrose.
Schools will have their costs covered by the DfE.
What parents should get in food parcels
The food parcels must contain items that make it easy for parents and carers to prepare simple and healthy lunches at home across the week.
According to government guidance, the parcels should contain food items rather than pre-prepared meals due to food safety considerations.
Providers also shouldn't rely on parents having additional ingredients at home to prepare the meals.
Plus, parcels should cater for children who require special diets, including allergies, vegetarians and religious diets.
Food packages should contain the below items, according to guidance by the Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA), Public Health England and the Department for Education (DfE).
- A variety of different types of fruit and vegetables, to provide at least one portion of fruit and one portion of vegetables each day. These can be fresh or tinned.
- Some protein foods (such as beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other non-dairy proteins), to provide a portion of food from this group every day. Meat and fish should be cooked (e.g. cooked ham or chicken slices) or tinned (e.g. tuna, salmon).
- Some dairy and/or dairy alternatives (such as milk, cheese, yoghurt), to provide a portion of food from this group every day.
For example, a typical weekly parcel could include the below, said LACA:
- One loaf of bread or pack of rolls / ten-inch wraps
- Two baking potatoes
- One cucumber
- Three large tomatoes or one pack of cherry tomatoes
- One standard tin sweetcorn in water
- Five portions of fresh fruit (e.g. apples, satsumas, bananas) or three portions of fresh fruit and one tin fruit in juice (e.g. pears, peaches, fruit cocktail)
- Two items from the following: One pack sliced cooked meat (e.g. chicken, ham or vegetarian alternative) or one tin meat or one tin tuna in water or six eggs
- 200g block of cheese or three cheese portions
- One tin baked beans
- One 500g pot plain low-fat yoghurt or three individual serving yoghurt pots
- 1litre / 2 pints semi-skimmed milk
How to claim if your hamper is substandard
The Sun has asked both Chartwells, which is owned by Compass, and the DfE what parents should do if their food parcels are of bad quality.
We haven't heard back yet, so we'll update this article once we do.
In the meantime, it could be worth speaking to your school if you're struggling to make any meals from the items.
They'll be able to raise the issue with the supplier.
Chartwells, for example, told The Sun: "We have had time to investigate the picture circulated on Twitter.
"For clarity this shows five days of free school lunches (not ten days) and the charge for food, packing and distribution was actually £10.50 and not £30 as suggested.
"However, in our efforts to provide thousands of food parcels a week at extremely short notice we are very sorry the quantity has fallen short in this instance.
"Our ten-day hampers typically include a wide variety of nutritious food items to support the provision of lunches for children."
Households struggling to put meals on the table maybe able to get help from a local food bank.
You normally need a referral from a charity, doctor or support worker to access a food bank.
Visit Citizens Advice for more information on this; the charity itself can also provide referrals.
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