As family budgets face ever more pressure from the rising cost of living, school meals offer a hot and nutritious meal every day for children.
North Yorkshire County Council's school meals service provides millions of meals a year to pupils in the county.
But as schools get back into full swing following the pandemic, they are boosting a series of initiatives designed to increase take-up.
These include breaking down barriers faced by families eligible for free school meals.
They also include:
- Giving children the chance to try new foods before they are served
- Street food options to attract older students
- Menus designed with children in mind through feedback and consultation with school cooks
- Exciting promotion days for children (for example Chinese New Year, Beside the Seaside, Globe Trotters’ Menu, World Book Day etc.)
Stuart Carlton, North Yorkshire Director of the Children and Young People’s Service, said: “We have a good uptake of free school meals in North Yorkshire among families who are eligible.
"However, we believe every child should benefit from a healthy meal in school.
“More and more families need this support and we must ensure every child who is eligible for a free school meal gets one.
“We are proud of the healthy, fresh meals we serve up in North Yorkshire’s schools each day and we want more children and young people to enjoy them.
"With the pressure on family budgets set to increase significantly, we are determined to make sure that everyone entitled to a free school meal is given one.
“We all know that children learn best on a full tummy and that good nutrition is critical for their physical and educational development.”
The meals service ensures food is as fresh as can be, ensures support for the local economy and contributes to reducing the county’s carbon footprint.
School catering teams understand that often parents and carers opt for packed lunches over concerns their children won’t like the food on offer at school, or are picky eaters or due to peer pressure and this can create unnecessary costs and lead to poorer nutrition.
Stuart added: “Our catering teams are very used to dealing with this and making sure children are happy and fed at lunchtime.
They often find that children are willing to try foods they see their friends and classmates enjoying.
“When education has been so disrupted, as during the Covid pandemic, a fresh, nutritious school meal is a healthy way for children to settle down in the school day and enjoy their food together rather than just snacking.
“We just want to ensure all our children are able to get the best out of teaching and learning and part of that is having access to good nutrition every day.”
To find out more information on qualifying for free school meals and how to apply, visit https://www.northyorks.gov.uk/free-school-meals