Parents heap praise on Sleaford schools for their free meal provision for struggling pupils

Against the background of rows continuing over how the government will help families feed school children over the February half term holiday and examples of miserly free school meal portions hitting the headlines over the past week, there has been a chorus of support for provision locally.

A week of healthy meals. An example of a food hamper sent out by Kesteven and Sleaford High School. EMN-210116-135033001

Parents have gone out of their way to sing the praises of the food hampers being provided by the catering staff of the Robert Carre Trust based at Carre’s Grammar School and Kesteven and Sleaford High School.

They have expressed their gratitude in messages to heads Nick Law and Josephine Smith, telling the catering managers not to be downhearted by the media stories as their experiences have been quite the opposite of those in the media.

Mr Law said: “We have had some really nice messages from the public.”

Happy families have praised the catering staff at Robert Carre Trust schools. EMN-210116-135225001

Trust finance director Jem Green said the schools have gone through a variety of methods for catering for free school meals for families in need. Initially as the pandemic hit and schools closed, Sleaford Community Larder stepped in to provide the food, with the secondary schools funding them.

He went on: “There was a period when the government voucher scheme was brought in and we used that, then the Winter Grant scheme gave money to families just before Christmas. Since then our kitchens have been providing their own weekly hampers which is going really well and our plan is to continue with the hampers as it is good food and gives schools some contact with the student to do a welfare check as well.”

He explained that as the catering staff are not as busy, with only key worker children being in school to feed, they have had the time to deliver the hampers to the door of families themselves - as far as pupils near Newark and Lincoln, who would have found it uneconomic to travel to collect the food from school. Mr Green said it also helped reduce food waste from the canteen.

The Trust’s Operations Manager Andy Allen praised catering managers Sandra Parrott and Lindsey Tyson and their teams for putting together a total of 61 hampers chock-full of food to cater for a wholesome meal five days a week, with a snack, thanks to the benefit of bulk buying.

High priase - parents have sent messages of support to Sleaford schools during the latest criticism of free school meals in the national media. EMN-210116-135236001

Mr Allen explained the hamper service has been used in the past when students have been off school for various reasons such as self isolating: “Things are labelled and there is fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, pasta, rice, healthy drinks and snacks. We include recipe suggestions too.”

The food stuffs, which roughly add up to about £17 in value, are restricted by healthy schools standards and recommended portion size control, limiting the amounts of starchy, fatty foods. “We are not filling it with easy ready meals,” said Mr Allen. “It is good, fresh food with a decent shelf life. They can follow the recipes or use it how they choose. You can be creative and make enough of a dish to freeze half and eat the rest for another day, it is flexible for families, but they should not be going hungry.

“We also cater for individual needs, allergens, vegetarians and vegans, selecting appropriate food rather than wasting it. Our catering managers like to provide a broad and balanced diet. They are both passionate about it and like the fact these children are not being missed.

“There is discussion in national news whether it would be better if vouchers are sent to families, but hampers will continue for now.”

Parents are pleased with the plentiful free school meal hampers that are giving families flexibility without stigma. EMN-210116-135247001

By delivering he said it also cut down on emissions, congestion and potential spread of the virus as only one vehicle was travelling around making the deliveries instead of parents coming in to collect.

What parents have said:

“I have three children at school within the Robert Carre Trust, two vegetarian teenage boys and my non vegetarian 12 year old daughter. Please send a really huge thank you to Lyndsey the catering manager and her team who have put together really fantastic food parcels for them which mean that I can make a whole range of different, interesting and filling meals. The parcels have even come with a thoughtful note offering to tailor things to suit different tastes and with recipe cards with all the necessary ingredients included. There is always a great range of products including lovely fresh fruit and veg and there are always brilliant vegetarian options for my boys like Quorn and Alpro products...they’ve even been thoughtful enough to pick out vegetarian stock cubes.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the fact that these parcels have been put together with such genuine thought and care has reduced me to tears. Instead of making us feel ashamed and embarrassed about being in our current situation, they have made us feel supported and cared for...and so very grateful. I thought you should hear my daughter’s words when she saw her parcel arrive, “This is one of the reasons I love being at my school, they really care”.

“I just wanted to say a heartfelt thanks to your catering teams for the food hampers they are providing.

“Lindsey and Sandra have both been incredibly kind, thoughtful and helpful with my daughter’s vegan diet and my son’s nut allergy and preference for soya milk.

“The hampers are impressive too - so much high quality nutritious food.

“Lindsey and Sandra are both a real credit to your schools.”

“After seeing criticism in the media and hearing criticism from parents with children at other local schools, I would like to send my thanks to you and your team for the wonderful hampers being sent home for my sons. As a single mum, working part time, with three children, I am eternally grateful for these hampers. I think that the content of these hampers is fantastic and you are doing an amazing job.”

- Elsewhere, families have been picking up similar hampers from St George’s Academy, while primary schools use various school meal providers.

The Farm Kitchen is a school meal provider based in Ewerby Thorpe, founded by Victoria Howe.

She explained: “We are very busy at The Farm Kitchen supplying essential food boxes that all exceed the requirements of the School Food Standards and are made using many delicious ingredients, including fresh bakery bread and British ham and free range eggs supplied by Simpson’s Butchers.

“Each box is designed to provide ingredients for a lunch for a child for five days.”