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New data shows 1.3 million more infants eating free school meals

Official figures revealed yesterday show that 1.3 million more children are now eating a healthy lunch since the policy launched in September.

Official figures revealed yesterday show that the Deputy Prime Minister’s policy of offering free school meals to all infants at school has had a very high uptake in its first 3 months. In total 1,640,530 children, equivalent to 85% of all infants, are enjoying a school meal at lunchtime.

The news comes as the Deputy Prime Minister visits a primary school to do some Christmas cooking, and to see how the new policy is benefiting children. Visiting Hallfield Primary School in London, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

Well over a million and a half infants are enjoying a school meal at lunchtime, giving them a better start to afternoon lessons and a healthy boost for their first years in school. The other good news for families is that this saves them up to £400 per child a year on the cost of a packed lunch.

The naysayers about this policy can eat their hats, and all the leftover sprouts.

Children in schools across the country are currently tucking into their Christmas lunches at school. Based on the new data about numbers of children taking free school meals, if every child has a Christmas dinner at school, this could mean that:

  • nearly 25,000 turkeys will be devoured
  • around 9.8 million sprouts will be munched
  • 29,000 litres of gravy will be slurped

Schools Minister David Laws said:

Christmas marks the end of a first successful term of delivering universal infant free school meals, and it is testament to the efforts put in by school staff, caterers and local authorities that more children all over England are enjoying the benefits of a great tasting, nutritional meal at lunch.

Free school meals save parents money and ensure children are focused and able to concentrate throughout the day. Now we want to ​encourage more schools to focus on quality, and continue building on the huge steps we have already made since September.

The policy to offer a free school meal to all infants in primary school was introduced in England in September 2014.

There is a real need to address health problems that are linked to a poor diet, with almost 20% of children being obese by the time they leave primary school. Evidence clearly shows that childhood eating habits stay with you for life, which is why it’s vital to address this problem from a very young age.

A common misconception is that a packed lunch is healthier than a school meal. In fact only 1% of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards that currently apply to school food.

Nutritionist, Amanda Ursell, said:

We know that a healthy school lunch can improve a child’s academic performance. Pilot studies showed children eating a free school meal were up to 2 months ahead of their peers in maths and English. I am delighted to hear that so many parents have encouraged their children to have a free school meal at lunchtime.

Parents can save up to £400 on the cost of a packed lunch - which is more than the average family spends on Christmas presents every year.

Pilots for free school meals in Newham and Durham showed a 23% increase in the number of children eating vegetables at lunch and an 18% drop in crisps.

Notes to editors

Please contact Peter Graham in the Deputy Prime Minister’s press office for more details on 020 7276 2546.

Calculations of the quantities of turkey, sprouts and gravy are based on the number of children taking up free school meals, multiplied by the recommended portion size from the School Food Plan.

Additional quotes

Henry Dimbleby, co-author of the National School Food Plan and founder of the Leon restaurant chain said:

The fact that 85% of infants are regularly eating a healthy free school meal is fantastic news.

Some people said it wasn’t going to happen but it has happened and it has happened well. I am delighted to see that everyone’s hard work is paying off and bringing real benefits to children and parents across the country.

I hope that whatever government comes into power in May not only maintains this policy but extends it to all primary school children.

John Vincent, co-author of the National School Food Plan and founder of the Leon restaurant chain said:

It’s clear we are now at the tipping point for a new golden age for school food. Thanks to the School Food Plan, cooking and food education is now a compulsory part of the national curriculum. New, healthier and easier to understand food standards have been published. And over 85% of all 5 to 7 year olds are enjoying the benefits of a healthy tasty free school lunch. By continuing to support our amazing headteachers we can together achieve our vision of a great school food culture for every school.


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