Preparations are underway at primary and infant schools across the county as they get set to serve an extra 10 to 12,000 school dinners a day from September.
The Government’s universal infant free school meals scheme will come into force at the beginning of the next academic year, meaning all pupils in reception, year one and year two will be entitled to a free hot school meal if they want one.
Nottinghamshire County Council has already started to look at what alterations and adaptations are needed at the county’s schools in order to cope with the large increase in the provision of hot dinners.
Council catering manager Helen Fifoot said: “Out of the 240 primary schools across the county, 96 – or 40 per cent - do not require any significant changes to be made to their kitchens to be able to deliver free school meals to all infant-aged pupils. With these schools, we are on track to ensure they are fully ready by September.
“Significant changes are needed to kitchens at the other 60 per cent - or 144 schools.
“We are on schedule to have arrangements in place by the start of the autumn term, although these won’t necessarily be our first choice solutions, which will take longer to put in place in some cases.
“For example, this could mean having to bring in additional meals from another source over a period of time before a new kitchen can be built.”
Capital funding of £1.7m has been provided by the Government to cover the costs incurred at local authority maintained schools as a result of the new policy, such as the building of new kitchens or the purchase of new equipment.
The council will also receive funding to cover the cost of each meal provided and this has been set at £2.30 per meal.
Around 85 per cent of eligible pupils are expected to take up the offer of free school meals and a number of extra jobs will be created in school kitchens to cope with the extra demand.
Funding for these posts will also be provided by the Government.
More than 60 per cent of schools in Mansfield and Ashfield will need building work carried out or new equipment installed - such as a fridge, freezer or oven - as a result of the new requirements.
In Mansfield, the county council caters at 27 schools, with two academies and nine local authority schools having a ‘high requirement’ for work to be completed to enable production of the extra meals.
Around 2,200 extra meals a day will be served in the district.
In Ashfield, the county council caters for 28 schools, with 12 of these on a high priority for works to be completed.
It is thought that emergency provisions will have to be put in place in September at four schools so that they can provide hot two-course meals.
The number of extra meals served in this area is anticipated to be in the region of 1,900 a day.
Catering staff at Nottinghamshire County Council will be looking at all schools in the next couple of weeks and discussing the options with them. But it is likely that with the increase in numbers some schools will initially have meals prepared elsewhere.