Hot free school dinners kitchen celebrates first week in full production

Somerset County Council’s £2.6million recipe to bring hot free school meals to Somerset’s primary school pupils was served up this week.

The last ingredient, a brand-new production kitchen at Taunton’s St Augustine’s site, is now preparing 2,000 cooked meals a day for under-7s, at schools’ request.

A total of 17,000 extra hot free school meals are now being provided every day across Somerset, as a result of the Government’s infant free school meal legislation – set to save parents £7.7million a year in lunch costs.

From this school term, all primary schools requesting hot, free school meals from the County Council now have access to them – up from over 90% of primaries by mid-December.

This is thanks to over 100 new serving school kitchens and seven production and finishing kitchens which have all been invested in by the County Council and Department for Education.

These seven are: Somerton, Six Acres, St Louis, Hindhayes, Curry Rivel, Shepton Mallet Infants, and St Augustine’s. The latter boasts three 20-grid combi ovens, each with the capacity to hold 200 portions.

Legislation required all schools to provide free school meals for Reception, Year One and Year Two pupils. It is up to school governing bodies to decide who will provide free school meals at their school, which may be one of the County Council’s contractors or another provider.

Free meals were available to all Somerset schools with infant pupils in September, of which 80% had access to hot meals and 20% to cold meals at that point. Since then the County Council has worked with contractors to give all schools with infants the option of hot meals which has involved considerable investment in facilities such as the kitchen at St Augustine’s.

Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children and Families at Somerset County Council, said: “This has been a major project for the county, and we’re really pleased that the St Augustine’s kitchen is now fully operational.

“The Government’s free school meals legislation did not state that free school meals must be hot, but it was our ambition that they should be.

“Unlike most authorities who already had a hot meals service, however, Somerset had to create a hot service in some areas from scratch, constructing a whole new infrastructure to make this happen – and it has certainly been no mean feat.

“We are already receiving positive feedback from the pupils and schools, which makes our task even more worthwhile.”

Notes to editors
A total of £3.5million will be invested by Somerset County Council and the Department for Education under new laws which came into force in September 2014 that all under-7s must receive free school meals. A total of £2.6million has been spent at present. It is Somerset’s ambition that the meals should be hot, although the legislation does not state meals must be.