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Nutrition and school lunches

Your child could qualify for free lunches 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 must meet national nutritional standards. These ensure that children are provided with a healthy, balanced diet. The new 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.

Further standards for food other than lunch were introduced in September 2007.

If the school's budget includes an amount for lunches and refreshments it is the governors' responsibility to provide free and paid-for meals facilities and to meet the nutritional standards.

Free school lunches

Parents do not have to pay for school lunches 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

Children who receive any of the qualifying benefits listed above in their own right are also eligible to receive free school meals. All pupils who do not qualify for free school lunches must be charged the same amount for the same quantity of the same item.

Apply for free school lunches

The local authority that maintains the school that your child attends is responsible for providing free school lunches. You can apply for free school lunches by following the link below and entering the details of where your child goes to school. You will be taken to the local authority website where you can find out more and/or apply online.

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 are not obliged to provide milk to pupils, but if they choose to do so, it must be free to those pupils who qualify for free lunches. Where schools choose to provide milk for pupils, the duty to provide free milk to eligible pupils is transferred to the governing bodies of former grant-maintained schools and grant-maintained special schools.

European Community subsidy rules allow local authorities and schools to offer nursery and primary school pupils a maximum of 250 ml of subsidised milk a day. Under the Welfare Food Scheme, run by the Department of Health, under fives are eligible for free school milk. Claims should be made through your local authority.

Free fruit and vegetables in school

The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme is a national government programme which gives all children aged four to six in infant, primary and special local authority maintained schools a free piece of fruit or vegetable each school day.

If your child's school has chosen to take part in the scheme, your child will be given a free piece of fruit or vegetable at school each day.

  • Source Direct Gov
  • Last Updated: 06 Jan 2012