03 September 2009

Primary school children in deprived areas get free school lunches

All primary school children in two areas will from today get a free, healthy lunch every day throughout the school year as part of the Government’s action to reduce childhood obesity and improve the health of all children.

The start of the free school meal pilots in Newham and County Durham comes a week after new research by the School Food Trust (SFT) finds that one in five parents on low incomes are not checking if they are eligible for free school meals. In Wolverhampton more children at both primary and secondary schools will be entitled to free school meals this year.

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls said:

“Eating a nutritious meal at lunchtime from a young age can help improve the behaviour of children in school and at home – that’s why these pilots are so important. Healthy school meals are vital to helping children do well at school and to prevent obesity.

“I encourage all families who are entitled to a free school meal to claim this valuable support. For those who are not eligible school meals are still a great deal and give parents good value for money. We know from recent research by the School Food Trust that parents with two children could save over £1,000 in a school year if they chose school meals – as well as the reassurance that their children are eating good quality, healthy food.

“We want to make sure that children are getting a healthy, balanced meal at school which is why we have introduced the new nutrient standards. Teenagers are the hardest group to reach but that doesn’t mean giving up, we must simply work harder to encourage them away from the take-away and into their school canteen. The Government is creating a legacy of healthy eating in children from a young age so by the time they reach secondary school they are more likely to want to eat a school meal.”

Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Health said:

"Obesity is the biggest health challenge this country faces. There are currently 1.5 million children who are overweight or obese, leaving them at an increased risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease later in life.

"Nutritious school lunches can make eating well a healthy habit for life. The measures announced today are an important part of our work to tackle childhood obesity, alongside the national Change4Life movement and our new ambition to move from 'relegation candidates to play-off contenders' in the international physical activity league tables."

Last week the SFT launched their new campaign ‘Bringing down the Barriers’ that will target pupils and parents to show them how much money they can save per year if they claim their free school meal, which is especially vital in the current economic climate. The campaign will also continue to work with schools to make sure they don’t stigmatise children on FSM, for example, 34 local authorities are using the £100 million government funding for dining rooms and kitchens to install swipe card systems so that FSM pupils cannot be identified.

Judy Hargadon, Chief Executive of the School Food Trust said:

“The nutrient standards are key to ensuring all children have access to a healthy and nutritious lunch at school but they will only be beneficial if children take up the meals on offer. Recent research highlights that there could be as many as 300,000 children currently missing out on the opportunity of a free school meal. Reasons behind this are complex, but parents tell us that stigma and not knowing whether they are eligible or not can put them off signing up.

“We are working with schools and Local Authorities to promote free school meals and make sure parents have all the information they need in order to claim them. As the recession bites and unemployment rises, families will want to be making all the savings they can so we would urge any parent to check with their school or local council and if entitled, start claiming this great benefit for their children.”

Newham Mayor Sir Robin Wales said:

“Everyone knows how important school meals are and here in Newham we pride ourselves in having some of the best. This pilot means we can make a huge difference to the lives of our pupils and our families, particularly those on the breadline. We are one of the country's poorest boroughs and many families have felt extra pressure on their budgets during the recession. This is a great way of both putting money in their pockets and of improving children’s health and fitness - one of our top priorities - to boot. We are with them every step of the way."

So should this be rolled out nationwide? What do you think?

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