One in six children will not be able to afford school canteen lunches, an organization warns

One in six children will not be able to eat lunch in the school cafeteria this year for financial reasons, according to the non-profit organization Women for Women (W4W), compared to one in eight last year. The organization, which provides free meals to schoolchildren through the “W4W: Lunch for Children” project, expects to pay for lunches for up to 20 000 children this year, according to its report.

The W4W project is not the only one; other organizations and institutions have programs to provide free meals for children from low-income families.

Last year, W4W had 18,765 students apply for free lunches, which is 30 percent more than in 2021. This year, the organization says the number could be even higher, up to 20,000 children. Meals for nearly 19,000 children cost W4W about $60 million. This year, the organization could pay up to CZK 100 million for lunches.

Most of the pupils the organization paid for lunches last year attended primary schools in the Moravian-Silesian Region. This and the Central Bohemian Region also had the highest number of schools involved in the project.

Last year, 27% of all primary schools in the Czech region provided their students with lunches subsidized by the organization.

Teachers and principals are responsible for identifying children in need

W4W offers help through primary schools. Teachers and school principals are responsible for identifying children in need.

“Teachers usually know the situation of the children and their parents very well. When applying for the project, they keep in mind that we provide help where it is needed. This way, we can be sure that the help will reach the children, i.e., that they will regularly receive a balanced and hot meal, and that they can eat their lunch in the school canteen together with their classmates,” described the W4W director and co-founder Ivana Tykač.

For a child to receive free school lunches, their parents must meet several criteria. According to W4W, it is necessary that the parents take care of the child, communicates and cooperate with the school, and properly sign out lunches when necessary. The organization pays for its project with donors and a Ministry of Education (MoE) grant.

Many school canteens in the Czech Republic increased the price of lunches last year due to rising energy and food prices. According to the MoE, the average cost of a school canteen lunch is now CZK 34, which is CZK 10 more than six years ago.

W4W representatives said that school canteens would have to respond to the rise in the price of goods and energy this year. The Ministry of Education announced this year that it would give more money to non-profit organizations to provide lunches for schoolchildren. It plans to distribute CZK 100 million—CZK 40 million more than last year.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs also has a program to support school meals for children whose families are in an unfavorable financial situation. In the 2021-2022 school year, 14 158 children from nearly 1,000 schools received lunch due to its Free School Lunches project.

Some town halls are also offering help. For example, the Prague 6 municipal district allocated CZK 12 million from its budget for lunches for children last year, and the town of Znojmo also decided to contribute to schoolchildren’s lunches.

A 20 percent increase in February?

In addition, school canteens can increase the price of main meals by 20 percent from February 1. Snacks and afternoon snacks will be able to go up by 30 percent. The canteens will be able to do this thanks to an amendment to the decree on school meals prepared by the Ministry of Education and Science.

The maximum lunch price for pupils aged seven to ten will thus be eight crowns higher than the current 39 crowns. Children aged 11 to 14 will pay a maximum of CZK 50 for lunch instead of the existing maximum price of CZK 41.