Children hungry after school meals, says commissioner

A tray with a school meal
The Children's Commissioner for Wales asked pupils for their views on school dinners [BBC]

School meal portion sizes should be looked at again with pupils saying they would like more food, according to Wales' children's commissioner.

Rocio Cifuentes said a "snapshot" survey of children's views on school dinners showed only a minority felt full after their lunch.

She said the guidance for schools needed to change.

The Welsh government said it would consider the most recent health recommendations for child nutrition, including portion sizes.

Current guidance suggests different portion sizes for primary and secondary school children.

However, the children's commissioner said her survey heard complaints from older primary pupils that they received the same amount of food as four and five-year-olds.

The survey was answered by 490 seven to 18-year-olds individually and a further 1250 took part in groups, with views fed back by staff.

Ms Cifuentes said the "overwhelming" message from children about not being full was a concern because "in this current cost of living crisis, so many children are relying on that school dinner as their main meal".

School pupils eating lunch
Pupils at St Peter's RC Primary School in Cardiff can have extra bread, fruit and vegetables if they are hungry, the headteacher says [BBC]

Feedback from children at St Peter's RC Primary School in Cardiff is that "portion sizes are usually sufficient", headteacher Gareth Rein said.

"They know that if they are still hungry there’s bread available, they can have fruit in addition to their dessert," he said.

"If they really still feel hungry beyond that, they can have extra vegetables."

A boy and girl in their school uniforms in front of a hall at dinner time
Kryspin and Melanie think school dinners are "great" but they prefer some meals over others [BBC]

Year 6 pupil Kryspin, 11, said his favourite thing about schools dinners was "the food is really good, you get a lot of time to eat".

"The thing I don’t like is that we’ve got to wait last to get our food in year six," he said.

He said some friends "eat a quarter of it and then they put it straight in the bin, or they sometimes give it to me or someone else".

Melanie, 11, said she thought school dinners were "great" but added that she did not like some things.

"It depends on the food they give us. My favourite days are Thursdays - we get cooked dinner and cooked dinner’s nice," she said.

"Sometimes if I’m hungry I ask my friends for their broccoli, because they don’t like it.”

As part of its cooperation agreement with Plaid Cymru, the Welsh government has been introducing free school meals for all primary pupils.

The children's commissioner said that was "fantastic" but that it had to "meet children’s needs in order to fulfil its full potential".

"If children or families are deciding not to take up the free school meal offer because they don't feel that the school meal is sufficient in portion size or in quality then that could undermine the roll out," she said.

The concerns mirror issues previously raised by Monmouthshire council officers, who said portions could be too small for older pupils and too big for the youngest, contributing to food waste.

A mum is smiling looking at the camera
Rachael's son is generally "happy" with his school dinners [BBC]

Rachael Webley and her 10-year old son from Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, said they had “no real complaints” about school meals.

"Sometimes, he comes home and says ‘there wasn’t loads today’ but other times he’ll come and go he had second portions, they had extras," she said.

"It’s a mixed bag, some days are better than others I would say."

Joanne Rowe’s six-year-old prefers a packed lunch but said she thought the options were “pretty good” and “because they’re free, we’re quite lucky”.

A table laid out for school dinners
A review of the guidance on school dinners will begin shortly, the Welsh government says [BBC]

Tom Giffard MS, the Welsh Conservatives' education spokesman, said: “It is right that children who need a free school meal receive one, but children cannot be left to go hungry."

He added that it was "unsurprising that the food portions are apparently small and of lower quality" as councils struggled with budget cuts.

“The spiralling cost of free school meals, which is now more than 10 times higher than just a couple of years ago, should be reprioritised,” he said.

The Welsh government said it would soon be reviewing guidance on school meals.

“Our regulations and guidance set out information on suggested portion sizes which differentiate between primary and secondary settings," a spokesperson said.

“As part of the consultation process we will be seeking the views of children and young people, parents and stakeholders about any changes we plan to make to school food and consider the most recent health recommendations for child nutrition, including portion sizes.”