Havering and Barking and Dagenham parents 'outraged' at poor quality free school meal replacements

A food hamper for one child in central Romford.

A food hamper for one child in central Romford. - Credit: Anonymous

Parents in Havering and Barking and Dagenham are up in arms about the poor quality of food hampers organised by the government to replace free school meals, comparing it to the food given to animal shelters.

A parent in central Romford who wished to remain anonymous said:  "It's shocking, it doesn't equal out [to a normal school meal].

"They assume that everyone has gas and electric to cook the pasta, that's the only meal even. For the other potatoes and stuff, you need bits and bobs to make it into something, which thankfully I have but not everyone does.

"It's the same thing every day, it's not a balanced diet."

In a normal school meal, children would have meals such as pasta bolognaise, roast chicken and gammon as their lunchtime meal, according to a weekly school meals menu from a Romford school.  

MP for Dagenham and Rainham Jon Cruddas said that many parents from all over his constituency have been contacting him in uproar about the issue. He has now written to the minister for children and families, MP Vicky Ford, urging her to restart the free school meals £30 voucher.

He said: "It is the most vulnerable families that receive this support, and it must have been utterly demoralising to open a parcel to such meagre and inadequate ‘help’. No child should be forced to rely on the equivalent of scraps."

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A parent who contacted the MP said they were "totally demoralised" and "outraged" by the "damaged and inedible" foods.

They added: "The orange is battered and in the last two packages I have received biscuits past their sell by date.

"The potatoes are sprouting already, I don't think this is an acceptable food package."

A food hamper picture send to MP for Rainham and Barking and Dagenham. 

A photo of a food hamper send to MP for Rainham and Barking and Dagenham, Jon Cruddas. - Credit: Anonymous

A Romford grocery seller, owner of Fruit Box UK, which adapted from supplying offices with catering services to delivering groceries for the elderly, since the pandemic began, Chris Loveridge said: "From seeing the recent pictures of some food parcel handouts, the quality is sub standard and certainly wouldn’t amount to the money being discussed [£30].

"The quality of the some of the food in those pictures is the equivalent to what we gift to animal shelters such as Hopefield in Brentwood."

Since the uproar, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that a national free school meal voucher scheme will be reinstated January 18.  

The firm behind many of the meal parcels, Chartwells, has issued a formal apology and agreed to refund schools for parcels that "have not met [their] high standards." 

The company was contracted by the UK government to deliver lockdown lunch hampers to many of the 1.4 million children in England whose families meet income requirements.