Fears that more children will slip through the nutrition net as school meal costs hit a new high

Survey results showing the average price of a school meal will rise to £2.65 this year mean more children are at risk of being denied access to a healthy diet, The Food Foundation says. 

The survey carried out by the Local Authority Catering Association (LACA) which represents more than 3,300 school food suppliers and kitchen staff, shows an average rise of almost 20% in the cost of a school meal since the start of the covid pandemic in March 2020, when it was around £2.24. 

School caterers say they are seeing rising debts as increasing numbers of children come to school with no lunch money. There are fears that many more will fall through the cracks because their families cannot afford to pay for school food, but do not meet the threshold for free meals. 

The Food Foundation is calling for the expansion of free school meal provision so all the estimated 800,000 children from families living below the poverty line can access them as part of the Feed the Future campaign 


Zoe McIntyre Children’s Right2Food project manager at The Food Foundation said: ‘This jump in the price of a school meal will hit families very hard when so many are already struggling with the continuing rise in the cost of food and other bills, and it is particularly concerning for the 800,000 children living in poverty who don’t qualify for a free school meal because the eligibility criteria are too restrictive.’  

‘For many of these children, a nutritious school meal will be totally unaffordable, forcing families to make difficult choices to ensure their children can eat during the school day. It’s likely we’ll see more children switching to packed lunches which cost families less, but we also know that less than 2% of children’s lunchboxes meet school food standards.’  

‘Extending Free School Meals for children in households on Universal Credit is an urgent step needed to ensure these children get proper food  at school in these challenging times.’ 


The price hike has also drawn anger from The Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassadors. 


Saffron Stedall, aged 18, from Portsmouth, studying for A-Levels in Product Design, Geology and English said ‘Every single day, 800,000 children wake up without knowing if they will eat lunch that day because they don’t qualify for free school meals. With such an  increase in the cost of school lunches, this number will skyrocket, along with the number of children who won’t have lunch at all. For many children, the lunch they get in school will be the only guaranteed nutritious, hot meal they get that day. It is crucial that we extend the threshold for free school meals to include every household that receives Universal Credit, especially now. This is about making sure children can eat, a basic human right they are currently being denied.’  


Jacob Kennedy, aged 18, from Glasgow, studying for an NQ in Broadcasting, Radio and Television said: ‘This will affect families who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis as well as increasing energy bills. It will force families to make decisions on whether they feed their children or whether they pay their energy bills which is ridiculous. Extending free school meals for children whose families are on Universal Credit is a step that the Government should take and being a young person who was in this scheme, I know it’s a necessity for children to be helped to get food, especially during this challenging time for the country.’ 


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