Free School Meals

My response to the Campaign regarding the provision and nutritional value of free school meals.


November 2022

Thank you for contacting me regarding the provision and the nutritional value of free school meals.


All children should be able to enjoy healthy food at school every day and develop healthy eating habits that will stay with them throughout their lives.


I believe it is imperative that children have regular healthy and balanced meals throughout the day, to ensure they are able to thrive in the classroom. We know that hunger has a detrimental effect on a child's ability to focus and learn.


The Government is keenly aware of the impact that the cost of living crisis is having on families across the country.


I understand that there have been some concerns about free school meals not being extended to include provision for all students at school. The Government has extended eligibility for free school meals several times, and to more groups of children than any other over the past half century, which now targets those most in need.


I have seen this positive development over recent decades.


The current situation with regards to free school meal provision is, in my view, the best it has ever been.


The Department for Education has recently extended the Holiday Activities and Food Programme (HAF) for a further three years, which runs during major school holidays.


The HAF programme has so far received over £200 million in funding, and is delivered by all 152 local authorities in England during the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays. It provides healthy meals, enriching activities and free childcare places to children from low-income families.


I am aware that the Department for Education has also recently held meetings with supermarkets to work with the Department to provide more support for the HAF programme in the coming months.


As of this year, approximately 50,000 more children are benefitting from a free school meal compared to under the previous benefits system.


I am also glad that the Department for Education is providing a further £18 million in funding for free school meals for all children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2. This increase will help schools and families cover rising costs.


Schools Food Standards provide a legislative framework to ensure maintained schools provide children with healthy food and drink options, and to make sure that children get the energy and nutrition they need across the school day.


The standards state that schools must provide fruit and vegetables every day, at least three different types each week and no more than two portions of deep-fried food a week. For several types of food, such as salt, fruit juice and starchy food cooked in oil, the standards are tighter. In trials, the standards proved extremely popular with school cooks, 90 per cent of whom said they were easier to implement than the old standards.


There is always room for improvement. Standards can and should always be on a positive trajectory. Support should always be flexible and responsive to serve those most in need.


I can assure you that this is an issue I will continue to monitor closely and will support any sensible provisions to further enhance provisions for families and for children.


Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. 


Sir Peter Bottomley MP