Free school meals: your questions answered
Free school meals coronavirus update
While schools are closed due to coronavirus, or only open to some pupils, UK schools must provide a daily meal or alternative every weekday for pupils who usually qualify for free school meals on the grounds of their family receiving certain benefits.
Pupils who have qualified for free school meals at any point during their current stage of education (i.e. primary or secondary) are also entitled to a meal or alternative, even if they no longer meet the eligibility criteria.
Children in Reception and KS1 who usually receive free school meals because of their stage of education, rather than due to their family circumstances, do not qualify. Children who qualify but are attending school will receive their free school meal at school.
- Meals or food parcels provided by the school's usual caterers (in-house caterers, local authority caterers, or private caterers) delivered in accordance with social distancing rules.
- Meals of food parcels provided by another local provider, such as another school acting as a community hub.
- A centrally-funded voucher scheme where families are given an amount per child per week to spend in major supermarkets (Asda, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco or Waitrose). This is provided as an online eCode or eGift voucher.
- A voucher for a specific supermarket chosen by the school.
- Money paid directly into your bank account (not England).
If you have vouchers or a direct payment, the amount you receive depends on which country you live in, but in England, it's £15 per child per week.
Throughout all of the UK, free meals or the equivalent will be provided to qualifying children over the summer holidays.
In England, this will be given as a single £90 voucher per child, to cover the whole six weeks. In Wales and Scotland, you may receive meals to collect or be delivered, vouchers or a direct payment. In Northern Ireland, parents will continue to receive payment straight into their bank account.
We will update this page if this information changes.
What are free school meals for infants?
Since September 2014, all children in Reception and Years 1 and 2 at state schools in England have been offered a free school lunch, regardless of their family’s financial circumstances. Children in Years 3 to 6 still have to pay for lunch, unless they are eligible for free school meals because their families receive certain benefits.
Why are free school meals for infants being provided?
Offering a free school meal promotes the healthy eating message by providing nutritionally balanced meals. Before the new initiative was introduced, under 50 per cent of children had school dinners, and only one in 100 packed lunches met the nutritional standards required of school meals. Research has shown that children are 23 per cent more likely to eat vegetables at lunchtime if they have a school dinner.
Universal free school meals also help families save money. About four out of 10 children live in poverty, and not all of them meet the current criteria for free school meals. Buying a school dinner every day for an academic year costs the average family £437, and a survey by The Guardian found that half of teachers have taken food into school for hungry children.
What sort of meals are on offer?
- One or more portions of vegetables or salad must be offered every day
- At least three different types of fruit and three different vegetables must be offered across the week
- Wholegrain foods should be used as much as possible, rather than refined carbohydrates
- Water should be the drink of choice
- Fruit juice can be served in portions of no more than 150ml
- Added sugars or honey in other drinks are restricted to five per cent
- Deep-fried, battered or breadcrumbed food can be served no more than twice a week
- Pastry products can only be served twice a week
- One portion of low-fat milk has to be offered every day
Where’s the money coming from?
What if my child has special dietary requirements?
If your child has dietary needs, ask to speak to the head teacher about their requirements, backing up your request with medical notes, if you have them. Ideally, schools should involve parents and catering staff in coming up with meal plans for children with special dietary requirements, with the help of a dietician if necessary.
My child prefers packed lunches. Do they have to have free school meals?
How do I sign up?
Free school meals in KS2 and beyond
- Universal credit, if your household income is under £7,400 per year after tax, and not including any other benefits
- Income support
- Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- Working Tax Credit run-on, paid for four weeks after you stop receiving WTC
- Child Tax Credit, providing you're not also entitled to WTC and have a household income of no more than £16,190 per year
- The guaranteed element of Pension Credit
- Support under part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999
If your child has received free school meals at any point but no longer meets the eligibility criteria, they'll still be entitled to free school meals until they reach the end of the stage of education (primary or secondary school) they're in on 31 March 2022.