school meals program

Nutrition is very important for everyone but especially the kids. The latter require it for their all round growth and development including that of the brain. Hence, school meals program is in place in the UK to ensure that children get at least one good and healthy meal in a day. What is the right meal choice for kids?

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School meals program in the UK

The UK government would like to see to it that all their children come under the school meals program. Hence these kids should get free meals at school daily. This would help them grow and develop to their potential. But this is not feasible due to financial constraints.

In England, every child in reception, year one and year two gets free meals at school daily, irrespective of their background or family income. And in older children, around 1.9 million get this food aid. This is around 25% of the school kid population.

school meals program
The school meals program (Source: Mental floss)

The parents of these kids are on either Income Support, or on income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or they are entitled to income-related Employment and Support Allowance. Whereas in Scotland and Wales, all primary school kids get free school meals daily.

When it comes to milk, in England and Wales, all under-fives get one-third pint of milk daily. And those under the free school meals aid also receive it. Whereas in Scotland, all nursery school children get free one-third pint of milk daily.

Packed school lunch

What about those kids who are not entitled to the free school meals program? They go for packed lunch. But a Leeds University study had revealed that only one in 60 packed school lunches were healthy. This might be even lesser after the current covid pandemic and inflation issues.

A 2022 survey showed that most children at school were having jam sandwiches, chocolate and sausage rolls. A major proportion of these school lunches lacked fruits and vegetables.

school meals program
School kids and school lunch (Source: Time)

The UK guidelines demand that a healthy school lunch should have one or more portion of fruit and vegetables every day. Also, there should be one portion of starchy food, like bread or pasta, and some milk or dairy. Three times in a week there should be meat or poultry. Whereas, oily fish, such as salmon, should be served at least once in three weeks.

NHS pediatric dietitian, Rachel Wood, says:

“If you are doing a packed lunch, it is important to get that balance.

“Children love picky food so for an idea to make it exciting, chop up fruit and cut veg and sandwiches into different shapes.”

Advice on school packed lunch

Also, read Free school meals stopped in the UK English schools despite food poverty in children’s families!

Rachel suggests that packed lunch for school should include all food groups. It should be low in processed foods and not have foods likely to give rise to gut issues or allergies. She explains:

“On a school menu, we would want to see calcium from dairy or dairy alternatives like cheese, yoghurts or milk, for bone growth. There should be carbohydrates from bread, crackers, pasta, potatoes or rice to give an energy source and keep the brain active.”

school meals program
School lunch for school kids (Source: The Conversation)

“Also, there should be protein for growth from meat, fish, eggs, pulses and beans, which also contain iron for energy levels. Fruits and vegetables, containing fibre vitamins and minerals, should be a good percentage of school lunches.”

“A healthy school lunch means children get all the vitamins, minerals and calories they need to concentrate, do physical activity, grow and maintain healthy relationships with food. Giving them the right foods as children provides them with a good start that enables them to make healthy choices in adulthood.”