More than 2,200 boxes of nutritional and balanced school food boxes have been delivered to schools across Norfolk and into Suffolk since the start of January, to ensure local children are not going hungry during lockdown.

In a week that that has seen concerns raised in some parts of the country about similar services, Norse Catering has been receiving positive feedback from the schools and families it supports.

As Norfolk County Council’s main catering contractor for Norfolk schools, Andrew Lipscomb, Operations Director for Norse Catering explained that they have been delighted at the comments from schools and how well their food boxes are being received.

And he explained that Norse takes no profit from the school food boxes service, delivering it at cost as part of Norse’s commitment to supporting local communities and to alleviate pressures on schools.

“It is an absolute priority for us to ensure that the children who are entitled to free school lunches, and who are currently home schooling, can still receive a range of well-balanced, healthy options for their ‘home school lunch’.

“It is vital not just for their physical health, but for their concentration and wellbeing too. No-one can fully concentrate if they are hungry, and we all know how the right foods can make a huge difference to children’s ability to learn.

“It’s a very tough time for so many families already and we fully appreciate how being able to offer your child a good lunch to keep them going each school day is so important, particularly when they are away from their friends, teachers and, of course, their school dining rooms.”

Andrew explained that they have been working closely with their food supplier, King’s Lynn based Barsby Produce in a joint effort over the past 10 months of the pandemic to do their very best to respond to the changing practical needs of the schools they support.

“We are supplying five-day boxes, one per eligible child per school week, to make sure that we can fill them with the right amount of fresh produce including fruit, vegetables, dairy products and healthy proteins, and that these stay as fresh as possible.

“There are also some store cupboard staples, and all of our boxes more than meet the Eatwell Guide and School Food Standards laid down by the Government and school catering watchdog LACA,” Andrew said.

After the orders are placed, the boxes are packed and delivered to each school within 48 hours and, to add a little bit of extra support, a suggested range of serving suggestions is included.

“We do try and vary the boxes as much as we can, but the core aim has to be good food, nutritionally balanced that children will enjoy and really benefit from, and that parents can serve up easily in a variety of ways,” he added.

Susanna Manrique, Assistant Head (Pastoral) at Recreation Road Infant School, in Norwich, said: “We are really impressed by the boxes from Norse Catering. The feedback from our families has been positive and they are really happy to see a variety of good quality, fresh produce on offer.

“Norse and their suppliers have had to turn things around at the very last minute and we’re really grateful for everything they have done for our school community.”

Cllr John Fisher, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Norfolk County Council, said: “There’s been mixed reports nationally about the quality of food boxes available to children who are eligible during lockdown, so it’s encouraging to see the nutritious and locally sourced food that Norse has been offering, particularly as they are the largest school caterer.

“We’ve also continued our account with the Eden Red voucher scheme, so that schools can apply for vouchers for their families, ahead of the reintroduction of the national scheme next week.

“We don’t want any children to go hungry and we know schools are trying to coordinate a huge amount at the moment, including home learning, key worker provision and school meals, so we’re doing all that we can to help.”

A spokesperson from Barsby Produce said: “It’s been our pleasure to be part of such a positive scheme that is helping to provide schoolchildren the access they require to healthy, nutritious foodstuffs, at this challenging time.

“We appreciate all the positive feedback, and we wholeheartedly share Norse Catering’s commitment to getting the healthiest, freshest food we can out to the children who need it the most.”