New figures published by the Department for Education’s annual school census suggest more support is needed to help make sure every child who qualifies for a free school meal opts to take it.

Schools still need support to increase uptake of healthy lunches

The Children’s Food Trust claims creating a great lunchtime experience for all children in schools is key to increasing the take-up of free school meals – both among children who qualify for benefits-based free school meals and among infants, who all have the option of a free lunch.

Head of research, Jo Nicholas, says: “ We welcome the news that more than 1.6 million infant school children are continuing to access a healthy school lunch through the Universal Infant Free School Meal scheme: good food at lunchtime improves children’s focus in class and is helping to build healthy habits for life. However, it’s a big concern that nearly 15% of infants still aren’t taking up the free meal that they’re entitled to.

“The census also shows quite a fall since last year in the proportion of children at primary school who qualify for free school meals, but aren’t taking them up (from 86.7% to 82.9%). This is a real worry and in the coming months we want to look into the reasons for this – we don’t want any child living in poverty to miss out on a nutritious meal at school.”