Parents Recognise Benefits of Free Infant School Meals

13 Sep 2015

One year on from the launch of free school meals for all infants in England, 95% of parents of the children taking up the offer are recognising the benefits for their child.

Almost one quarter (23%) of parents with children eating a free infant meal say the main benefit to their child is the greater variety of food they will now eat, according to a new survey commissioned by the School Food Plan and carried out by Opinium Research. The same proportion (23%) say they most value their child eating a proper meal at lunchtime, whilst almost one fifth (19%) say their child has enjoyed trying new foods. The opportunity to eat together and socialise with friends was identified as the most important aspect by 15% of parents.

Parents are seeing the positive impact school meals can have on children’s eating habits, and the value of eating a ‘proper meal’ with friends at lunchtime.

Professor Greta Defeyter, Director of Healthy Living at Northumbria University, said: “Introducing children to a wide variety of nutritious food is key to establishing positive eating habits and lays the foundation for their future health and wellbeing. Good nutrition is essential for growth and development and we know there’s a clear link between food and academic attainment – particularly in areas of poverty and among primary-age children.”

The universal infant free school meals policy, launched in September 2014, entitles every child in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 to a free lunch at school every day. Figures from the Department for Education, published in June, show that 85.5% of these children – more than 1.6 million – are taking up the offer.

Karen Collett, Headteacher at Haddenham St Mary’s School said: “I am seeing the difference that free infant school meals make. The children are enjoying eating a hot meal, they are keen to try new food and lunchtime has become a more social event with children engaged in conversation. Class teachers have noticed improved levels of concentration in afternoon lessons particularly amongst children who previously found it a difficult time of the school day. It has also been a catalyst for implementing wider food education activities which the children are loving.”

Highlighting the achievement of the 16,500 schools who have implemented the policy and its impact on children’s nutrition, Linda Cregan, Chief Executive of the Children’s Food Trust said: “Schools achieved what many thought was the impossible this year, serving up great food to more than 1.6 million infant children every day – including children living in poverty, for whom free school meals can make the biggest difference. Schools had little time to prepare but they tackled all sorts of issues; many kitchens and dining spaces finally got the investment they needed but the job is far from over, so capital funding needs to continue. And as the government shapes its Child Obesity Strategy, now is the time to be measuring how this scheme is improving children’s nutrition during the school day, especially for children living in poverty for whom access to healthier foods is often more difficult.”

Source: Opinium Research carried out an online survey of 5,021 English adults aged 18+ from 17th to 28th July 2015 including 503 parents of children receiving free infant school meals.

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