Your child’s school dinners – everything you need to know

Will your child have a hot meal or a cold meal? Provided by school, or by you? We explain what kind of lunches you can expect your child to have once they start school.

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Whether your child is offered a hot meal or the choice to bring in their own packed lunch will depend on their school: while schools won’t make packed lunches for your child, their lunchtime menu will offer both hot and cold food.

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Schools are required to offer high-quality meat, poultry or oily fish on a regular basis, as well as bread, cereals and potatoes and at least two portions of fruit and vegetables with every meal.

Who is entitled to free school dinners?

The good news is that, currently, if you live in England and Wales you’ll get a free school meal up to and including Year 2.

Different rules apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland 

How do you apply for free school dinners?

If you’re in England or Wales and think you might qualify for free school meals after Year 2 you’ll need  to contact your local authority in order to apply for free school meals.

Visit Direct Gov’s local authority database and type in your postcode or county to find your local authority. Here you can find out more and/or apply online.

If your child’s not eligible for a free school meal after Year 2, what can you do?

If your child goes to a school that offers a hot school dinner at lunchtime, but you don’t qualify for free meals, then you can pay.

The average cost in the UK for a school dinner is approximately £2 per day for a two course meal, including a vegetarian option and supplementary bread.

The exact cost depends on your local authority and school. To find out how much a school meal costs in your area, visit Direct Gov’s local authority database and type in your postcode or county. 

How can you provide your child with a healthy packed lunch?

If you’re at the stage of making a packed lunch for your little one, make sure you pack a balanced lunch for your child, including starchy foods, proteins, dairy items and a portion of fruit and vegetables. We’ve got some great tips to get you started

What if your child is a fussy eater?

Your child refuses to eat at home, so why will they eat at school? Luckily lunchtime supervisors and school cooks are really good at spotting those who are scared to try new things and only want to have the same thing every day and just encourage them and give them little tiny tasters.

What if your child has a food allergy?

If your child has a known food allergy, the best thing to do is to tell your child’s school. Give them time to prepare so if your child is about to start a new school, mention the allergy when you visit the school or during a meeting with the new headteacher.

It might also be a good idea to put it in a letter to the school so they have it in writing and make sure you let them know the proper procedure or medication that your child needs incase of an allergic reaction. 

If you haven’t decided what school to send your child to and you’re going around visiting schools, don’t forget to ask staff or pupils about the school food.

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