Kosher school meals crisis escalates as second caterer withdraws its services

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Kosher school meals crisis escalates as second caterer withdraws its services

Bakeries forced to step in to provide pupils with lunchtime bagels as concerns mount over pupil welfare at 18 schools.

Sinai Jewish Primary School year two pupils enjoying a hot kosher lunch. The school is one of those unaffected by kosher supply issues.
Sinai Jewish Primary School year two pupils enjoying a hot kosher lunch. The school is one of those unaffected by kosher supply issues.

(Correction: Amending par 2 to remove reference to Signature Dining who continue to trade)

The kosher school meals crisis that has seen hundreds of pupils deprived of hot lunches has escalated after a second caterer withdrew its services.

London Kosher Catering took over the contract to provide around 20 Jewish schools with kosher meals earlier this year after previous supplier, Signature Dining, which served 18 Jewish schools, was unable to continue – leaving parents to send their children in with packed lunches.

Among the schools affected were Hasmonean Primary School, Beis Yaakov Primary School, Pardes House Primary School, Menorah Primary School, Sacks Morasha Jewish Primary School, Rimon Jewish Primary School, Mathilda Marks-Kennedy Jewish Primary School and Menorah Foundation School.

An image showing an example of lunch food at a secondary comprehensive school. (Photo: Alamy)

London Kosher Caterers (LKC) attempted to step in to fill the breach but was only able to do so temporarily due to spiralling costs.

Miriam Kaye, headteacher at Mathilda-Marks Kennedy (MMK) Primary school, said LKC was unable to provide a hot meal for less than £5.50p per child, more than £2 more than the school receives from the government per pupil.

She told Jewish News: “We only receive £2.32p from the government per meal and LKC could not provide meals for less money. We are disappointed for our pupils that they are unable to have a hot meal at lunchtime due to the fact that kosher meal prices now make this unaffordable for providers.

School meals PA Wire

“Hot meals not only help to provide a balanced diet for our pupils, it helps them concentrate better through the afternoon. We are hoping that the government and the Jewish community find a way to support providers so they can deliver affordable meals for all.”

Kaye added: “If we subsidised the shortfall in meal costs we would have to cut back on what we are able to provide in terms of resources in the classroom or activities we would provide.”

The school says it feels “supported” by the understanding demonstrated by parents, “however parents are rightly concerned about their children’s diet and believe a hot lunch would be more beneficial. Some parents are concerned about the cost and how they would be able to sustain the additional cost into their weekly budget. If they have more than one child in the school, it’s unmanageable. I really get their plight.”

Peyman Hakimi-Sefat from Daniel’s Bakery told Jewish News that after Signature removed its supply “suddenly we had schools coming to us and asking for filled bagels”. The bakery is now in its third week of providing schools with up to 200 bagels a day.

Hakimi-Sefat said: “We supply one school, and are negotiating with two others – plain, tuna and egg bagels. I can’t reveal costs. From what I can hear, this will run until the end of summer term and maybe into next year. I think more schools will get in touch. We are the cheapest option.”


Justin Kett, Head of Kodesh and Deputy Head, Sacks Morasha Jewish Primary School told Jewish News “it was quite a shock, to say the least, to find out London Kosher Caterer, who were providing meals for us and around 19 other schools, gave us notice at around nine days that they weren’t able to continue providing hot meals at affordable price points.”

He says the immediate solution for the school was to offer a sandwich lunch.

“Some have taken it up, some haven’t, but we have to provide something for those on Infant free school meals and older children on free school meals, which are two separate schemes.”

The school is “managing with cold sandwiches at the moment purely because of it being warmer weather” but they “definitely want students to be on hot meals moving forward.”

Sacks Morasha wants to avoid packed lunches for reasons of “allergies, kashrut, affordability for families, convenience for families but also for nourishment.” And whilst there are those who are fortunate enough to be able to provide hot meals for their children, Kett is very much aware that for others, the hot school lunch is imperative.

Sacks Morasha

“It is a great shame that costs are what they are at the moment,” he continues. “Our investigations so far have been met with the sheer, simple fact that kosher caterers cannot afford to provide meals at a price that would be decent enough for families to pay, or for asking us to cover. I hope this can be resolved by someone, sometime soon and perhaps also it will require financial intervention on the part of some of our central bodies, such as JCAT, United Synagogue and the like, either themselves or to find donations on our behalf.”

Kett stresses that it’s not just one individual school facing the problem, but “pretty much every Jewish school.”

He has “no doubt with a little bit of belief, a lot of soul-searching and scrabbling around, someone will ride to the rescue. Hopefully that will come sooner rather than later.”

Whilst many parents are having to provide a lot more from home to ensure their children feel full during the day, “there are schools such as Wolfson Hillel and Sinai who are lucky enough to have their own kitchens and therefore they’ve been largely unaffected. But schools that don’t have that facility are less fortunate and the impact for our families is that they are having to spend a lot more time, energy and money feeding their children when previously school was able to provide much of that during the school day.”

Referring to the United Synagogue and Jewish Community Academy Trust (JCAT), Kett asked: “Can they access donors more easily to fund a subsidy for schools to then be able to offer meals at a lower cost, albeit perhaps not as low as they’ve been used to?”

Gareth Jones, chief executive of JCAT told Jewish News: “We have put interim arrangements in place. We are working with the United Synagogue and partners across the community to assess the cause of these issues and we hope to work together as a community to resolve them as quickly as possible.”

A mum-of-two with a child in Key Stage 1 at Sacks Morasha, who is eligible for free school meals, spoke to Jewish News on the condition of anonymity, saying: “Our school was using Signature Dining, however they decided it was not worth supplying school meals as they were not cost effective. We were then switched to London Kosher Caterers, who were supplying meals for around three to four weeks. We thought everything was going well; there were menu choices we had to make in advance to ensure our children would have sufficient food of their choosing.”

London Kosher Caterers, she continued, withdrew its meal provisions at one week’s notice: “The school were previously very pushy in getting parents to sign up for school lunches, and packed lunches are only to be brought in if a child has a medical need (and a doctor’s note to support). Now we have been left with no option for hot lunches at all, with no end in sight. Currently Daniel’s Bakery are supplying bagels everyday, with a choice of egg, tuna or plain fillings. Unfortunately if your child does not like either option, the only choice is to select a PLAIN bagel, and supply fillings, salad and fruit yourself.”

Mathilda Marks Kennedy School,. Mill Hill.

The anonymous parents says it is “incredibly frustrating to be eligible for free school meals, and then be told that my child will be eating a plain bagel everyday for the foreseeable future unless I supply a different protein / vegetable myself. The government gives a daily allowance per child. For parents opting for a plain bagel everyday it seems that there is an excess of funds which could be put to use in supplying fresh fruit or vegetables themselves.

“The school have always been so forthright in the children having a hot, healthy and nutritious meal, and now it seems that a bagel will suffice.”

From September, Key Stage 2 children will also be eligible for free meals, so parents across the school will still be having to pay out for these extras if the situation remains unresolved.

The mother of two says the situation is “less than satisfactory, especially as we are in a cost of living crisis, where the government and the mayor are doing their best to help families, but it seems at a Jewish school we don’t get access to these benefits.”

Moshe Roth from Hermolis, told Jewish News: “We are trying our best to give the schools the lowest possible price with the lowest margins in order to provide for the children. Hot lunches at the budget they have is impossible to achieve when it comes to kosher food.”

Natalie Salama-Levy, MD of 1070 Kitchen, tells Jewish News: “It is  upsetting to hear of kosher hot school meals no longer being available in Jewish schools, as it is something that should be quite straightforward to ensure. The goal should now be, in my professional opinion, to create a better kosher hot school meal service that can meet the needs of the 21st century and that addresses funding, food quality and sustainability.

Cheryl Freedman, manager of the Sharon nursery at Kinloss synagogue, understands the position London Kosher Kitchen found themselves in, telling Jewish News: “They tried everything in their power to try and provide the meals but they just couldn’t. I’ve known him (Zvi Freedman – no relation) for a long time. He’s a great caterer, did my son’s barmitzvah, but he’s been priced out of the market.”

The nursery was using the caterer to provide lunches for 25 children a day, Monday to Thursday.

She continues: “We didn’t have a contract, we did it term by term and were just providing lunches – hot meals, usually meaty, sometimes parev. It was costing around £3 a head. Prices went up about three or four weeks ago. The caterer that we were using couldn’t supply us at that cost of around £5 or £5.20, which we couldn’t afford at all.

“This is funded by the parents – its part of their fees. If I would have gone with that fee, I’d have to ask parents to pay considerably more which I wasn’t prepared to do. As far as I understand, our caterer hasn’t gone bust. He was finding it very difficult to sustain lunches at same cost as previous caterer. It was too expensive. He’s a caterer anyway and was doing this to give back to the community.

Sharon nursery had to “find a caterer in short term” which they did with a small company called Georgia’s Deli. “They supply nurseries,” says Freedman. “It’s at a lower rate, but we are still having to ask parents to pay a lot extra. Parents were pleased I’d managed to find something quickly, but not happy about the increased rates.”

She says the situation is “100%” due to the cost of living crisis. “I spoke to a caterer, who said that the rise in food had gone up 60-70%. Sky-high. I can appreciate how difficult it is for caterers to provide healthy, affordable meals for children, but it’s not conducive to parents’ pockets, which is a terrible shame. If I hadn’t have found another caterer, then they’d have to make packed lunches.  Parents starting to have buy all the stuff doesn’t work. Kids need to have a hot meal a day. It’s a shame that Barnet Council couldn’t get involved. Other schools get free meals. Why can’t we? Because it’s kosher. There is nothing from the government towards school meals.”

From “a personal point of view”, Cheryl Freedman says the nursery is “sorted” and her parents and their kids are happy.

“But who knows how long the cost of living crisis will go on. I hope it won’t get to a point where parents withdraw kids from school. Kosher food is extortionate. It’s upwards of £9 for two chicken breasts. The cost of kosher food is the problem – it’s been like that for years. It’s not affordable for low income families. It’s really scary. I feel sorry for those on low incomes – to buy a chicken was £11. It’s ridiculous. It’s all relative because prices are up across the board. Kosher meat has gone up in price.”

However, Debbie Gradner, head of operations at Sinai Primary School, said:  “Our onsite kosher kitchen is running business as usual and serves hundreds of hot and nutritious meals every day.”

London Kosher Caterers and Etz Chaim Primary School refused to comment. Beit Shvidler did not return calls.

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