Hot school meals could be made available across all primary schools - Minister

Humphreys announces review of school meals programme with an eye to expansion

Hot school meals should be made available to all primary school pupils over the coming years, Minister for Social Protection Heather Humpheys has said.

She was speaking at the launch of a review of the school meals programme, which currently supports over 230,000 students in over 1,500 schools and organisations.

The €60 million initiative includes breakfasts, lunches, dinners, cold meals and hot meals and aims to ensure children can take full advantage of the education provided to them

Ms Humphreys said the new evaluation will examine the potential expansion of the programme, including schools which are not categorised as disadvantaged.


While the cost of major expansion of the scheme to all 3,600 primary schools in the State would be expensive, she said it could be done in an incremental manner.

The review’s interim findings will be considered in the run-up to Budget 2023.

The Minister said a new hot school meals initiative, in particular, has proved “hugely popular” since it began in 2019, growing from 30 schools to almost 300.

“My dream is to ensure that every school child would get a hot meal in the middle of the day. It helps their educational attainment, they study better,” she said.

“I know from my own experience that a child is more likely to sit down and eat a good hot meal whereas a cold sandwich can always be shoved into the bottom of the school bag.”

The Minister was speaking at Scoil Naofa primary school, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8, where teachers said the roll out of a hot meals programme has proved very popular with children and appeared to help boost children’s engagement and concentration in the classroom.

Among the questions to be explored as part of the evaluation include whether the programme meeting its aims; what are the practicalities of moving to a hot school meals option; how can the programme be better delivered; and the extent to which it has improved school attendance and educational achievement.

Researchers will also examine how the scheme compares with programmes in other countries, and the implications of the EU Child Guarantee for the School Meals Programme.

This calls on member states to guarantee “effective access” to a healthy school meal each day.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent