Deputy Colm Burke.

School meal programme to be expanded

It’s hoped children in every primary school in Cork will receive hot school meals by 2030 if not sooner as part of a plan hailed as “landmark”.

Cork North Central TD Colm Burke was speaking as a report published recently examined the positive effect school meals have on a child’s health and wellbeing. The report was published by the Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys.

The independent evaluation recommended that hot school meals be extended to all DEIS primary schools from September, in addition to one free hot meal for every child in Ireland to be introduced on a phased basis by 2030.

Deputy Burke explained: “I’m delighted that Minister Humphreys is implementing the recommendations with a massive expansion of the hot school meals programme, which means by the end of this year, 1,000 schools nationwide will be receiving hot meals.”

He continued: “From 2024, the roll-out of hot meals to all remaining primary schools will start on a phased basis, with an ambition by Minister Humphreys to move faster to have this implemented before the recommended timeframe of 2030.”

He said schools will soon be invited to express their interest in taking part: “I would urge Cork schools to engage in that process.”

Speaking following the announcement, Minister Humphreys said: “Providing nutritious meals to our children at school is about so much more than food. It helps a child make the most of their education and their childhood.

“This evaluation is evidence-based and sets out a series of recommendations for expanding the School Meals Programme into the future. The overarching recommendation is that every child should get one free hot meal.”

She added: “Given we have already expanded from 30 to 1,000 schools in just over two and a half years, I believe we can reach all primary schools sooner than that.In the coming weeks, my department will invite expressions of interests from all remaining primary schools countrywide.

“My ambition is that a child born in Ireland today will be guaranteed access to a Hot Meal by the time they start school.”