In a perfect storm of problems preoccupied by the school system, £ 88.3 million in free meals disappeared each year – while some were split off to pay staff wages and water bills.
The government provides £ 2.34 per day for each eligible student, increased by £ 3.50 per week on the third lockdown.
But for the past 48 hours, the country has been shocked at the quality of the meals offered to students, with barely any barriers that included little more than the bare minimum.
MailOnline can highlight the huge inequality between the funding sent and the end product due to gentle government policies, business requirements, a system to reduce the stigma of free meals, and a lack of funds in schools.
This system enables the students to buy meals in the school canteen on a smart card, which were then replaced by the controversial packages during blocking times.
Tory MPs are putting a lot of pressure on Boris Johnson to reform the system after it became known that cash used to feed children is being siphoned off by private companies to boost profits. School principals also use some of taxpayers' money to pay wages and energy bills.
Influential Conservative backbencher Steve Baker told MailOnline: "I know the government is deeply moved and working hard for change on this matter – angry Conservative MPs insist."
This is what is supposed to be in a child's school lunch package during lockdown for a week
Keir Starmer circulated showing the government instructions on what food packages should have
The breakdown of the grant for some schools
The government's regulations on the universal grant for free school meals for infants include detailed terms and conditions associated with bureaucracy for education providers.
However, the fine print of the funding reveals a loophole that many have been able to exploit to cover a lack of funds elsewhere.
As long as the school fulfills its legal obligation to provide free school meals, it can use the rest for other purposes.
If they can feed students for 1 pound per capita, 1.34 pounds will be free for other areas.
The guidelines say: “The grant supports schools in meeting the legal requirements to offer all 1st and 2nd grade students free school meals that meet school food standards.
“Subject to the fulfillment of this legal obligation, the schools can spend the grant for the purposes of the school. that is, for the educational benefit of students enrolled in this school or for the benefit of students enrolled in other schools.
Over 90 percent of schools receive funding for free school meals for some of their students
Baroness Boycott and Charity Feeding Britain say £ 88 million a year is disappearing from funding
How much should the free school meals really be worth?
Free school meals are typically £ 2.34 per student per day. An additional £ 3.50 per seven days has been added for blocking, which equates to £ 15.20 per week.
The government has directed schools to work with their school catering team or providers to put the grocery packages together, especially when the kitchens are open.
In contrast to the first blocking, vouchers are only taken into account when all efforts to provide the supply boxes have been exhausted.
The government guidelines state, "You can consider other local arrangements, including vouchers for local shops and supermarkets."
School costs for the provision of the vouchers can then be reimbursed by the government at the rate of £ 15 per week.
A school catering source told MailOnline: “The employees have never experienced anything like this. They are working on a pandemic to make the food boxes for the parents that some don't even collect.
"For those on the school staff who were expecting 120 children from the parents of key workers and vulnerable children for free school meals, 40 came."
“You can also spend it on community facilities, such as services that are provided for a charitable cause for the benefit of the school's students or their families, or for people who live or work near the school. Schools do not have to spend the entire grant in the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2020. You can submit part or all of the grant. "
The use of the funds in this way has already been confirmed by some schools in the UK.
Katie Barry, a principal at St. George's Church of England Primary School in Gainsborough, told Newscast: "Of course we should feed all of the children who are still in school – the vulnerable children and the most important working-class children – so they can get a hot lunch as usual.
“But then we also have to make sure that all children who study at home and are entitled to free school meals have a grocery package.
“Schools with their own kitchens are strongly advised to offer food baskets instead of exploring the voucher route.
“I think we may know that the children are getting healthy food because we have to meet national food standards, but I also think there is an economic reason for this.
“Well all we're getting extra is an extra £ 3.50 per week that was announced yesterday. The money we usually get for free school meals has a lot of overheads, of course, so it's £ 2.30 a meal, but I only have to spend about £ 1 on food because obviously we have all the wages and the electricity and the water and to have everything.
“So we really only have about £ 5 a week for groceries in our grocery parcels, then we got the extra £ 3.50 yesterday, so it's well under £ 15 that are given to families in vouchers.
"Getting five healthy meals on a growing child who is expected to study at home is not much, and they need to be well fed to be well engaged in their study."
This food package is intended to feed a child every school day at lunchtime for one week
This scanty selection was given to a child attending an elementary school in Bingley, West York's
Grocery companies also need to survive by making a profit on the services they provide.
It means that using any of the hundreds of potential suppliers is eating away at the already small amount offered to children.
The biggest black hole in free meal finance, however, is bizarrely caused by a system that makes older children less embarrassed about eating the free meals.
In secondary schools, smart cards have been introduced to all students to top up money, or in the case of students receiving free meals, the amount is credited every day. You use it to buy lunch at school and have been walking for ten years.
However, a peculiarity in the system means that the daily allowance is deleted and not carried over to the next day if the amount is not used or is fully spent.
During blocked periods, these free amounts were replaced by the packages.
It was revealed in a report last year by the Feeding Britain network and Professor Greta Defeyte.
It was said that £ 88 million had disappeared from free school meals.
According to the report, neither the Ministry of Education nor the National Audit Office could determine where the money was going.
Baroness Boycott, Chair of the Charity Feeding Britain, said: “The schools are doing a great job overall and have done a fantastic job.
“I think most of the contractors did a very good job too. You need to remember that for the contractors overall, because we only have one day of school and they were expecting a full school year, many of them actually delivered all of their food, which would have been things like carrots and pasta.
“They've done it before so they have a lot of problems with it, but this is clearly the really bad situation.
“I think the government, by and large, has not done too badly, but I think there are a lot of problems, so to speak.
At Feeding Britain we did a big investigation into what happened to the money.
“We found that £ 88 million a year actually went away as a combination of money that was not turned over.
Also, the terrible truth is that food is always seen as the slice of the sandwich to get out of incredible cuts in councils, cuts in school budgets, and parts of the food budget at this time. & # 39;
Children Minister Vicky Ford MP said the government is working hard to ensure that students have good school meals.
She said, “The government will require caterers to urgently improve the quality of the lunches they serve to eligible children. This will ensure that each of them has a healthy, nutritious lunch that will give them the fuel they need to focus on home study.
"The photos shared on social media last night and today are completely unacceptable and do not reflect the high standard of free school meals we are likely to send to children."