Pressure is mounting for Perth and Kinross Council to ditch plans to introduce frozen school dinners, as approved in summer.
The Scottish Greens are calling for the council to “abandon” supplier Tayside Contracts after a series of complaints about the quality of school meals it provides.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Mark Ruskell urged the local authority to rethink its approach, saying the firm “clearly aren’t able to deliver”.
Instead he suggests the council considers the Food for Life scheme, which already operates in local authorities throughout Scotland and uses locally produced ingredients.
His call comes just days after the Deputy First Minister John Swinney expressed his concerns over the quality of meals produced by the company.
Mr Swinney, MSP for Perthshire North, says he has received feedback directly from parents which raise “legitimate questions” over the quality of food.
And GMB union rep Stephanie Smith claimed catering staff in Dundee and Angus have “no choice” but to serve meals, regardless of their quality.
However Perth and Kinross Council agreed on June 23 to join Tayside Contract’s Tay Cuisine model for providing school meals, already in use in Dundee and Angus.
The model mass produces meals, freezes and reheats them, with some traveling miles while warm. It will be introduced in Perthshire schools from January next year.
MSP Mark Ruskell, of the Scottish Greens, said: “Perthshire produces some of the best quality food in the UK, so why are our schools serving meals that pupils and parents clearly find so unappetizing?”
His alternative suggestion, the Food for Life scheme, supports schools in delivering dinners sourced from local ingredients while also helping children understand more about food production and growing.
In the last budget negotiations, the Scottish Greens secured the roll out of free school meals to all primary pupils and funds from the Scottish Government to expand the Food for Life scheme.
Mr Ruskell continued: “The Food for Life scheme, which the Greens secured extra support for in budget negotiations, is there to help councils source fresh local food for schools which tastes good and helps children connect with where their food comes from.
“It’s quite clear that Perth and Kinross Council has used the roll out of free school meals to all primary children to justify a shift to poorer quality mass produced meals.
“This utterly misses the point, because free school meals are about giving every child access to a high quality meal, while developing good eating habits and a healthy food culture around cooking, eating and developing new menu choices.
“Tayside Contracts clearly aren’t able to deliver that so while we get ready to roll out free school meals to all primary aged children, I urge Perth and Kinross Council to listens to the pupils and parents and look at again at alternatives.”
‘Meals meet nutritional requirements’
A Perth and Kinross Council spokesman said: “This (agreement) will allow us to meet the Scottish Government’s requirement that all pupils in P1-P5 can receive free school meals, which means an estimated 500, 000 additional meals will be served in our schools each year.
“The meals meet the national nutritional standards and most produce is sourced through the Scottish Government’s national procurement programme. This includes produce from local dairies and bakeries.”
Tayside Contracts provides almost 30,000 school meals every day throughout Tayside.
The number of complaints we receive about the quality of our meals is minimal.”
A spokeswoman for the firm said: “The number of complaints we receive about the quality of our meals is minimal. Our latest survey showed a high level of customer satisfaction.
“We have been operating the cook-freeze process successfully since January 2021, as part of the meals served to schools and community customers in Dundee and Angus.
“And other than some teething issues at the very start, this service has operated with very few complaints from our customers, even with the pandemic.
“Using local produce is very important to us and we are working very closely with the National Farmers Union and local producers, to encourage more local suppliers to join the already extensive group of Tayside providers to our meal service.”