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Free support to boost take up of school meals

Schools in the East of England are each being offered advice and training worth around £3,000 to help them increase the numbers of pupils opting for school meals.

More than 1,000 schools in 46 local authorities across the South East, South West and East of England with below average take up of school meals can access the free support packages from the Children’s Food Trust’s Make school meals count programme.

Make school meals count is government-funded and aims to fulfil a major objective of the government’s School Food Plan. The total value of the support available from this Children’s Food Trust is around £2.9 million.

The programme includes local authority training and bespoke support to improve the dining experience and marketing of school meals. The packages are available to eligible junior and secondary schools, academies, free schools, pupil referral units (PRUs) and schools for pupils with special educational needs across the South East, South West and East of England. The Children’s Food Trust is leading the programme with support from Elygra Marketing.

While all infant pupils are now able to enjoy a free school meal it is optional for the over sevens. It is estimated that 43 per cent of these pupils opt for school meals – up seven per cent in the past three years but some way from the target of 70 per cent as outlined in the School Food Plan.

Jeremy Boardman, Head of Schools at the Children’s Food Trust said: “School meals are vital. There’s a national obesity crisis and it’s affecting children. Unless they learn to eat a balanced diet, their health and their lives are at risk. School meals give children the balanced nutrition they need to learn and grow well.

“School meals services must also be financially viable. Most school meal services are running at a loss so economies of scale matter. The more children eating school meals means higher turnover – and potential profit for the school.

“The programme will help schools by giving them advice and support to attract more children to opt for school meals, as well as boost their catering service turnover by increasing demand.

“We know this programme works as it has been tried and tested across 250 schools where it’s helped drive and increase in take-up of school meals by an average of eight per cent.”

The Trust’s Make School Meals Count service includes:

• Small Step Improvement programme: this Children’s Food Trust programme is completely tailored to each school’s unique challenges and helps leadership teams and school caterers identify small, low or no cost changes they can make to increase take up of school meals.

• Elygra Marketing then provides expert input for junior schools to help them change children’s attitudes and make the dining experience exciting. And Elygra’s support for secondary schools equips them to market their school meals service in competition with high street top brand marketing and attract new customers.

Public Health Berkshire is using the package to support schools across the county. Strategic Director Lise Llewellyn said: “This project will help us as a new part of local government to work with new colleagues in school and children’s services to make a real difference in the short and long term to our children.

“School meals provide a healthy diet supporting our children have the best start. The project will provide expert support, resources and evaluation to design the best programme to increase the number of our children receiving school meals.”

Wroughton Junior School in Swindon is among the Berkshire schools benefitting from Make school meals count support. Headteacher Sue Cox said: “We’ve already done a lot to increase school meal numbers and getting involved in this project is helping us take this work to the next stage.”

Make school meals count is supported by LACA (Lead Association for Catering in Education) and ParentPay, a provider of online payment systems for schools.

The Food for Life Partnership is providing free packages of support for eligible schools in the North of England, the Midlands and London, under the ‘Increase your school meal take up’ banner.

For information about the Children’s Food Trust’s Make school meals count programme visit www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/schoolfoodplan/schoolmealscount

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