The Hot School Meals Programme is set to be rolled out to every Primary School in Ireland.
As previously announced Hot School Meals are to be extended to all DEIS primary schools from this September.
In addition to this, there will be a phased roll-out to all non DEIS Primary Schools commencing in 2024.
This means every student in all primary schools will be included in this new scheme.
Minister for State Sean Fleming welcomed the news.
He said: “This has been decided following an independent evaluation of the School Meals Programme which sets out the positive impact the Programme is having in terms of children’s education and welfare.
“I believe providing nutritious meals to our children at school is about more than food.
“It helps a child make the most of their education and their childhood.
“It does wonders for our children’s wellbeing, their concentration, and their physical and mental health.
“School meal rates for providers are to be increased as well effective from 1st January 2023.”
Deputy Flanagan said: “School Meals have a hugely positive effect on children’s health and wellbeing, which was reaffirmed in a report published yesterday by my colleague, Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys.
“The independent evaluation recommended that hot school meals be extended to all DEIS primary schools from September, in addition to one free hot meal for every child in Ireland to be introduced on a phased basis by 2030.
“I’m delighted that Minister Humphreys is implementing the recommendations with a massive expansion of the hot school meals programme, which means by the end of this year, 1,000 schools nationwide will be receiving hot meals.
“From 2024, the roll-out of hot meals to all remaining primary schools will start on a phased basis, with an ambition by Minister Humphreys to move faster to have this implemented before the recommended timeframe of 2030.
“When the Minister was appointed to her role in June 2020, there were just 30 schools receiving hot school meals, but today, almost 500 benefit from the hot school meals programme.
“The Department will soon invite expressions of interest for remaining schools who wish to participate in the hot school meals programme and I would urge schools to engage in that process.
“Research indicates that the provision of school meals resulted in improvements in attendance in school, with evidence that providing children with food in school is making a difference to families in terms of money saved, and for some families, in time saved on food preparation.
“This was also articulated by parents and teachers who spoke of the benefits of young students having a hot school meal in the middle of the day.
“There will also be an increase in school meals rate for providers, which will be backdated to January 1st 2023.
Deputy Flanagan concluded: “The Department will invite expressions of interest for remaining schools who wish to participate in the hot school meals programme and I would urge schools to engage in that process.”
Minister Pippa Hackett added: “I am delighted to see the announcement of plans to roll-out the hot school meals programme to every primary school in Ireland by 2030 or sooner.
“Last February, this Government committed to extending this programme to all DEIS and Special Education Schools for the 2023/2024 school year and now we plan to go one step further by rolling out the programme to all Primary Schools.
“A recent report has highlighted the hugely positive impact of the current hot school meals programme, not only on children’s educational outcomes but also their physical and mental well-being.
“The programme also makes a difference to families, both in terms of money and time saved.
“Today’s announcement is a win-win-win for school children, their families and their schools.”