So, the UK government, has decided, after much umming, and ahhing, to offer free school meals to all children in Reception, Year 1 and 2 of Primary school from September. Currently only families who fall below a certain financial threshold receive school meals for their children. We are not entitled to free school meals, and Big Girl currently takes packed lunches to school.
Before I go any further, I am NOT ungrateful at the opportunity offered. I realise that for some families, free school meals are very much needed, and indeed, the only “decent meal” that some children, will sadly, get in a day, and for other families it will release a financial burden, or ease the pressure of making lunch boxes every day.
However, we won’t be taking up the offer.
I personally feel that whilst the government has good intentions in mind, and that the logic behind offering a good meal, to children is sound (children perform better if they are eating an adequate diet, it’s not hard to work that out) and that some children need it, however, I do think the government already takes it’s role of Nanny/Parental responsibility far too seriously, and interferes in our lives, tells us what to do, far too much, as it is. I don’t need to be told that I don’t need to bother sending lunch for my child, because the government can do it better. I have so far managed to keep Big Girl fed and watered adequately during her school career, I am pretty sure I can manage the same with Little Man when he starts in September. I personally don’t rate school lunches that highly, and get very irritated when schools dictate to us what children can and cant have in their lunch-boxes, but then when you look at the school menu and see the options, they aren’t actually that much better, or interesting. To be told my child can’t have the occasional sweet treat in her lunch-box, yet can choose a muffin or cake for pudding every lunchtime at school dinners makes no sense to me. I am pretty sure the quality of school lunches has improved since I was at school, but I don’t think they are the be all and end all.
Also, financially, it might be a money saver in the short term, but come Year 3, we then need to start paying for lunches (and we would be paying for Big Girl’s anyway, as she will be in Year 3 this September) and to be honest, I don’t spend a huge amount of extra money in our grocery budget on school lunches, it all is food we would eat anyway, if the children were at home needing to be fed lunch. So really, for us, it’s not a huge financial deal breaker (I do know it will be for some families, I am not saying it won’t be good financially for some families) It also seems a bit unfair that a younger child gets free meals, yet older children don’t. All children need adequate nutrition, this doesn’t stop at aged 8 when they hit year 3. How is it saving money, with such a short term vision? If a family already has to pay for say two meals for older children, one free meal for a younger child, seems a bit unfair to me and not that much of a difference financially. Would free school meals for all primary aged children be a better option?
To be honest, the other main reason, is that Small Boy is dairy intolerant. He can tolerate small, very small amounts of cows milk, as in, if he eats a small amount of milk chocolate, it’s not an immediate issue, but he cannot tolerate more than that, and we try to be strict, as an more than a small amount of cows milk products ingested causes some not very pleasant issues, and makes him unwell. I have seen the options for children with a dairy intolerance, on the menus, and frankly, they are blah, boring, bland and horrible. (a lot of adjectives, I know) and I prefer to send him in with a lunch-box that has things he will eat that won’t cause him issues. I, as his parent, want to take responsibility for feeding him adequately and properly. I know this is a concept the government doesn’t think we are capable of, but I know I am not the only parent who feels marginalised by them.
So, we won’t be taking up the free school meal offer, I’ll be packing two sets of lunch-boxes next term, and I don’t mind. It’s part of the parenting a school age child package, if you opt for packed lunches. I am sure there will be plenty of parents who will take up the offer, and I am glad for those that need and want it, that it is there. (if, all the logistics are in place, to be frank many schools aren’t ready and are saying they won’t be, to deal with the influx of extra school meals required)
So, if you have a child starting school in September, what will you be doing? Free meals, or will you be opting for packed lunches? What are your reasons behind it? Will it save you money and your child is not eligible, will you opt for packed lunches? Do you think the government is going too far with the nanny state or should all children be offered meals?