More than 1.6 million children have taken up free school meals in England’s infant schools since they were introduced in September.
The Government has hailed the policy as a resounding success with 85% of all infant school children now accessing free meals, saving parents up to £400 a year on the cost of packed lunches.
Schools minister David Laws said the high take up was a ‘testament to the efforts put in by school staff, caterers and local authorities’.
‘Free school meals save parents money and ensure children are focused and able to concentrate throughout the day,’ he said. ‘Now we want to encourage more schools to focus on quality, and continue building on the huge steps we have already made since September.’
When free school meals were piloted in Newham and Durham there was a 23% increase in the number of children eating vegetables at lunch and an 18% drop in those snacking on crisps.
Nutritionist Amanda Ursell said: ‘We know that a healthy school lunch can improve a child’s academic performance. Pilot studies showed children eating a free school meal were up to two months ahead of their peers in maths and English.’