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Free school meals

Universal free school meals for Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 pupils

From September 2014 all children in reception, year 1 and year 2 in state-funded schools in England will receive free school meals. The government made this decision after a recommendation in the School Food Plan. This is very exciting news and has fantastic benefits for children, parents and the schools.


Not only are school meals healthy, pilot projects who trialled universal free school meals showed that the children that had a school meal were 2 to 3 months ahead academically compared to children who did not have one.


Please see the frequently asked questions section for more information. Further information is available at the school food plan website and the childrens food trust website

Did you know – if you’re on benefits, your child may be entitled to free school meals no matter what year they are in!

Every day children and young people across Leeds are missing out on their free school meal. Child Friendly Leeds encourages families to check if they are eligible – it could save £420 per year per child.

Families who are entitled to free school meals are in receipt of the following benefits:

  • Income Support
  • Income Based Jobseekers Allowance
  • Income Related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit with an annual income of less than £16,190, provided they are not receiving Working Tax Credit
  • The ‘Guaranteed’ element of the State Pension Credit
  • Support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999

Please note: People receiving Working Tax Credit, regardless of their income level, do not qualify.

We’re working hard to make sure our school lunches are tasty, and healthy, as well as making lunchtime comfortable and fun for everyone.

To find out if you are eligible ask at the school office or call Leeds Revenues and Benefits Service on 0113 222 4404.

Year 10 pupils in Leeds have recorded a series of videos, which are available to view by clicking on the YouTube link in the follow us section.

See also the Related Pages for more information about school meals.

Please can you help us to encourage families to check if they are eligible; there are posters and a flyer available in the Downloads section.

What type of meal will my child receive?

​Although the government would prefer all children be given a hot meal, many schools in Leeds will be offering 3 options: a meat based hot meal, a vegetarian hot meal and a sandwich option or similar, as well as a drink and dessert. All meals should meet the school food standards. The standards will ensure that your child will be offered fresh fruit and veg and healthier drinks at lunchtime, and get the essential nutrients they need.

Your school will either have a caterer or will provide their own catering. Many caterers prepare their food fresh on site in the school kitchen, some may use some frozen foods or pre-prepared foods. Some schools may get their food delivered hot from another school.

How will this this benefit my child?

Your child will be receiving a healthy balanced meal at lunch that provides a high amount of minerals and nutrients. Studies have shown that schools involved in a pilot study for universal free school meals, have pupils that are 2 to 3 months ahead academically than those who don’t. Your child will be exposed to a bigger variety of foods and it may help with social skills progression and encourage healthy habits for life.

How will this benefit me?

​You will save time instead of making up a packed lunch and also an estimated £420 per year per child.

I also have children in Year 3 or above so will I still need to make a packed lunch?

Consider using the money you will save not making packed lunches for your child in reception/key stage one on school meals for your other children. Think about how much money you spend on packed lunches as it may be similar to what you would spend on a school meal. Consider the benefits of your child receiving a school meal as above.​

Can my child still have a packed lunch?

In the pilot areas where they trialled free school meals, only small numbers of children chose packed lunch, and many schools in Leeds have active packed lunch policies that advise on healthy packed lunches. But, the government hopes you will give school meals a go. It’s likely that children will want to eat school lunch because many of their friends will also be eating a school lunch. Some schools have active parent groups, who work together with other parents to agree to ban packed lunches.

Are school meals healthier than packed lunches?

​All school meals are expected to meet the government’s food standards that came in 2006. The meal is therefore healthy and balanced in terms of minerals, vitamins and other nutrients and high sugar, high fat foods are restricted. It is extremely hard to get a packed lunch to meet such high standards. Recent studies have shown only 1% of packed lunches actually meet these standards and that children who have packed lunches generally consume higher amounts of fat, salt and sugar.

What if my child is a fussy eater?

Encouraging your child to have a school meal will help your child be exposed to new foods. Because the other pupils are having the same food this may also encourage your child to try new foods. Many schools are holding taster sessions for parents and children to try new foods and get used to the menus. Some parents that know what is on the menu will give their child the chance to try it at home first. Many schools have rewards in place if children have tried a new food or eaten most of their meal which encourages the children.

My child has dietary requirements, so a school meal is not suitable?

Most caterers have a nutritionist to help with this. Make your school aware of what it is your child requires or should be avoiding. Many schools in Leeds offer cultural specific diets such as vegetarian or halal options.

If your child has an allergy, your school will ask for a medical certificate or letter from the doctor. The school and caterer will then work with you and your child to alter their menu specific to your child’s needs.

How can I find out what is on the menu?

Your school should have menus available on their website. If this is not the case, contact the school and ask for one. Schools have a different approach to choosing and ordering food. Some choose every day in the morning, some three weeks in advance.

How will the school afford it?

The government has given a certain amount of money per child per meal to each school. There is further money available from the government so school kitchens can be ready for the increase in number of meals they will be making.

Do I have to apply?

Your school should be in touch with you about how to do this. Some may ask in advance if your child will be taking a meal as of September 1st 2014.

My child already gets free school meals - how does this affect me?

In Leeds, one form is used to apply for school meals, council tax support and rent allowance. Therefore, if you apply for these benefits, your child will continue to receive their school meals as they have always done so. Some people who are eligible for free school meals do not fill in the form if they will not benefit from the council tax support or rent allowance. An example would be a single parent living with their parents. When you apply for these benefits, the school get additional funding for your child, called the Pupil Premium. It is therefore very important you continue to fill in this form. If you are unsure whether you are eligible you should ask your school office. Support is also available at One Stop centres; housing offices; or the LBS Helpline 0113 2224404.

How can I claim free school meals and check eligibility?

​Check your eligibility by clicking below. Usually, to claim, you'd need to fill out a form.

Criteria for free school meals for all years of education.

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