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Over 300,000 parents speak out in survey on school meals

08 Jul 2022
A major survey of school meals has highlighted the views of parents on the key issues for the school meals service including allergen management, sustainable sourcing, meal uptake, cashless payments and the role of digital technology.

Building on the success of the 2021 survey ParentPay, Cypad and LACA have again conducted one of the largest studies ever undertaken with 306,354 respondents answering questions on school meal provision in the UK. The report was unveiled at the LACA Main Event today (8th July).

The research was run via a survey of ParentPay users, with organisers saying it will help understand what caterers and school leadership teams need to do to ensure their clients and families are happy with the service provided. The 2022 report has also been supported by ASSIST FM and their members in Scotland, ensuring coverage across the UK.

The report showed that 83% of pupils are having a school meal at least once a week. Half of children are having school meals every day, with a third of those switching between school meals and packed lunches. In England the North East (64%), North West (64%) and London (62%) have the highest percentage of children receiving four school meals a week.

The most popular reasons cited for choosing school meals included having a hot meal (47%), convenience (45%), friends having school meals (24%), because they are nutritional (20%) and to encourage their child to try new foods (17%).

Of the 85,000 respondents who would prefer a different method of choosing school meals, 63% said they wanted the option to pre-order school meals in advance. According to the research 64% of those eligible for free school meals would use school meal provision even if they didn’t qualify for free school meals.

Nearly one in five parents surveyed claim that sustainability and ethical sourcing is ‘definitely a factor’ when choosing school meal provision, which is down from 30% in the 2021 survey. Nearly one in four children have alternative dietary needs with Halal is the highest (amongst the pre-defined needs), accounting for one in 20 schoolchildren.

Commenting on the survey’s findings LACA vice chair Brad Pearce, said: “This years' survey demonstrates the value that parents and carers place on their children’s school meal and with over 306,000 responses is our biggest ever! This is a phenomenal responses rate and gives us some really strong and useful data. 

“According to this survey 83% of children are eating a school meal at least once a week and 60% who choose a school meal are eating one every day. As we come out of the pandemic and school closures these figures continue to highlight the great work of our frontline staff and the quality of the meals provided to ensure school meals are appealing to children and their parents.

"We agree with parents’ views that dining environments can have an impact on whether a school lunch is chosen and would encourage schools and caterers to work together to create those dining spaces within schools. 

“We are pleased also that the vast majority of parents believe that cooking should be on the school curriculum so that children are provided with the skills they need to cook healthy, nutritious meals for themselves and others later in life. LACA hope that caterers and schools agree with our recommendations, and we would like to offer our support to members in helping make parents’ and children’s vision for school food a reality.”

The majority of parents continue to feel that school meals are priced correctly. Even with the ever-increasing cost of living, school caterers are focused on and managing to produce good value for money meals. Two-thirds of primary school parents would like the ability to see what school meals their child has eaten in the recent past, with only 12% already having this available to them.

While caterers continue to work tirelessly at improving school meal provision, some topics raised by parents show there is more work to be done in terms of allergen management, variety of meals on offer and quantity of nutritious menu choices.

Merica Wilsher, head of sales at Cypad (part of ParentPay Group), added: “The sheer volume of responses from parents and carers for this survey continues to demonstrate how engaged parents across the UK are in their children’s school mealtimes, with more than double the number of respondents in 2022 from 2021.

“We were pleased to be able to develop the survey further from 2021 with more detail and introduce regionalised data across the UK for the 2022 report, giving schools and caterers greater insight into the parent view of school meal provision. It’s great to know that Cypad and ParentPay offer services that give parents confidence in their child’s school meal provision, and we look forward to continuing to track the changing views of school meals from parents.”

Access the full report below.