State to pay for 11 million school meals in 2017

The Greek state will pay for 11 million school meals distributed to 70,000 primary school children in 2017, starting in February, Alternate Labour and Social Solidarity Minister Theano Fotiou told the ANA’s Thessaloniki-based radio station ‘Praktorio 104.9 FM’ in an interview on Thursday.

Fotiou said this was the first time that the state budget was providing 25 million euros for school meals in Greece, highlighting that this was different from the private donations made by companies and institutions to various programmes. “This is the state, which is preparing for a major change,” she said.

The school meals programme was a means for addressing child poverty as well as child obesity (with the Agricultural University planning the meals), but also an “educational policy for the Left,” the minister added.

Questioned about various complaints about the programme’s problems and weaknesses made by school canteen owners – including the fact that meals were given at 13:00 whereas underfed children needed them at the start of the day – the minister said the government was open to working with all the parties involved, including parents, teachers and canteen owners.

“I do not want us, however, to confuse the philosophy behind the programme…It is a proper hot meal that is cooked and given in schools. For a child to eat in school is an issue of educational policy for the left,” she said.

The aim, she added, was for children to gradually learn to eat in a healthy way and thus also address the grave problem of child obesity in Greece, as well as to cultivate a sense of community and collective action. Fotiou cited the findings of the Agricultural University in a survey on the impact of a pilot school meals programme in Perama during the previous year. This found an improvement in the children’s performance in school, a reduction in agression and greater cooperation.

She also pointed out that many schools did not have canteens, especially in poorer areas where students did not have money to buy the goods sold in canteens, and that the government’s aim was not to close them down. “We need everyone to help but to help within the philosophy, not outside the philosophy. Nor is this charity. We are not giving the child anything secretly. All the children eat together. And for this reason we are starting in areas worst hit by poverty,” she said.

Fotiou said the programme will be expanded further during the next school year, while the areas in Athens and Thessaloniki where the needs were greatest had been selected. She clarified, however, that the school meals programme will only be implemented with the agreement of both parents and teachers.