THOUSANDS of south Essex children will get free school meals from September, saving parents more than £400 a year in food bills.
The new school term will mark the start of the Government initiative offering free lunches to to reception, Year 1 and 2 pupils to ensure pupils get a nutritious meal.
The schools are expected to offer a hot meals option or cold lunches until their kitchens are able to cope with the demands of extra school meals every day.
Mum-of-two Jessica Turner will benefit from the scheme when her youngest, Freddie, starts school in September.
Jessica, 27, from Westcliff said: “It's about time, too
“Three meals a day are provided for prisoners, yet not for our children, something is very wrong in a country that does that.
“Hopefully it will be rolled out to the whole of primary soon too.
“I've always thought the free school meal scheme should at least be subsidised in some way because low income working families aren't entitled and are sometimes worse off than nonworking families.
“It also means the children are getting fed a decent meal.
Some parents tend to fill their kid’s lunch box with junk.”
Single mum Olivia Jay, whose son Billy, four, starts at Great Wakering Primary School in September believes the project will give working parents like herself more time to spend with their children.
Olivia, 30, of High Street, Great Wakering, said: “Because I work full-time in London and he goes to after school clubs I know he will be having a substantial meal.”
More than 250 schools applied to Essex County Council for extra funding to help them provide the scheme and 68 additional kitchen staff will be taken on.
Forty-eight of the schools needed major refurbishment and six will not be finished until the October term. The council refused to name the schools.
An Essex County Council spokesman said: “The council is working closely with schools and contractors to make sure the necessary improvements are in place by this time.”
Thurrock Council said extra catering staff had also been employed.
A spokesman said: “Thurrock has been proactive preparing for the introduction, holding a number of meetings with headteachers to discuss catering requirements.
“Discussions have been held with suppliers to ensure additional resources could be supplied in time.
“There were two schools that required major refurbishment, but all the maintained and voluntary aided schools will be ready.”
Southend Council was unable to say whether its schools would be ready