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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Nutrition and school lunches

In England your child could qualify for free meals or milk, or be given free fruit and vegetables at school. Local authorities must provide free lunches for eligible pupils, paid-for meals where requested and good facilities and supervision so pupils can eat safely.

School lunches

All food provided by local authorities in England must meet national nutritional standards. These ensure that children are provided with a healthy, balanced diet. The standards, introduced in September 2006, require the following:

  • high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish regularly available
  • at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal
  • bread, other cereals and potatoes regularly available.

Additionally, there are controls on the following foods:

  • deep-fried food limited to no more than two portions per week
  • fizzy drinks, crisps, chocolate and other confectioneries removed from school meals and vending machines.

Free school Meals

Parents in England do not have to pay for school meals if they receive any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
  • the Guarantee element of State Pension Credit
  • Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income (as assessed by HM Revenue & Customs) that does not exceed £16,190
  • Working Tax Credit 'run-on' - the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit

From 6 April 2012, Working Tax Credit rules for couples have changed and because of the increase in the number of hours a couple has to work in order to qualify, some families may have lost their entitlement to Working Tax Credit. Those families my be entitled to free school meals if they now satisfy any of the above criteria.

Apply for free school meals

Approach your school first to find out if you need to apply via the school or your local authority.

Packed lunches

To help you pack a healthy, balanced lunch for your child, you can find tips and suggestions from NHS Choices, Change4Life and the School Food Trust.


Local authorities and schools can decide whether or not to provide milk. If they do, it must be free to children who are eligible for free shool meals.

All children under five who are in day care for two or more hours a day should be given a free drink of milk. This includes some four-year-olds in reception classes at primary schools. For children under one year old, it is given as infant formula.

Free fruit and vegetables in school

The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme entitles children aged four to six to a free piece of fruit or vegetable every day, if their school has joined the scheme.

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