Somerset County Council, working in partnership with local schools, are celebrating two years since the introduction of free school meals for pupils in Somerset.
In that time parents of children in Reception, Year 1 and 2 have been able to send their children off to school in the knowledge they will receive a quality, healthy meal every day.
Cllr. Frances Nicholson, Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “Free school meals have been helping families save up to £437 per year per child over the last two years.
“Not only have children received a good quality, wholesome meal but we can see that sitting together with their classmates for a meal helps with their overall social and emotional wellbeing, it helps the children develop good eating habits as well as helping to combat the rising problem of childhood obesity.”
Some schools in Somerset have provided their observations about the impact of the free school meals and the opportunities this has created for lunchtimes with teachers and their schoolmates:
Cutcombe First School, Exmoor: “The children have all developed better table manners, the use of cutlery for example. It is a social experience at lunchtime and the whole school (including all staff) sit down together to eat. There was initially a 100% take up of the free school meals, which has been sustained at nearly 100% since then.”
Beech Grove Primary School, Wellington: “The children are beginning to eat a variety of different foods and many pupils who wouldn’t touch the vegetables before, will now eat them. It has also led to better concentration levels in the afternoons.”
Oaklands Primary School, Yeovil: “We can already see an improvement in the amount of different foods children will now try and how many eat more at lunchtime than they did to start. The children have also built a strong relationship with the catering and dining staff making mealtimes very enjoyable. Children will ask the catering staff about the food and make sensible decisions about what they will eat.”
St Cuthbert’s Infant School, Wells: “All the children have a filling and balanced lunch, which is great for low income families and healthier than lunch boxes previously supplied. This has had a direct result on the children’s ability to learn and make progress in the afternoon sessions.
“Many of the children are being taught how to eat with cutlery, have nice conversations and have good table manners, and we reward them for this. They can all eat as a ‘family unit’ often with a teacher and other adults sitting at the table with them. This in itself is a critical time, a family meal time, and it helps our children to develop language, communication and social interaction skills as well as improving their understanding about healthy meals.
“For some children this is the only healthy meal they have all day despite the intervention of external agencies and other support for families. The benefits are in many ways astronomical and we would not want to see it lost.”
St Dubricus First School, Porlock: “They are more able to sit down and share a meal sociably. This is apparent at our residential visits where children eat better and are aware of conventions around knives and forks and table manners and the children are eating a wider range of foods.
“It has been a wonderful and beneficial initiative that has changed the atmosphere in the school in a very positive way. The children are more engaged in the afternoon and have a greater awareness of the social aspect of sharing a meal together. Attendance at clubs has increased as more children are less tired and so can be active for longer periods of time.
“Children have experienced more foods and this is a huge bonus of the scheme. One child who would only eat very limited food now has all meals and his diet and approach to eating is transformed.
“Most importantly, the Universal Free School Meals programme has encouraged children to eat a broader range of foods and recognise the importance of sitting down to a balanced meal.”
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Notes to Editors:
To apply for an infant free school meal, please complete and return the application form which you can download at: http://www.somerset.gov.uk/education-learning-and-schools/school-life/free-school-meals/