North Yorkshire begins healthy free school meals campaign – North Yorkshire County Council

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This story was published 11 March 2022
A campaign is underway across North Yorkshire to encourage more families to take up school meals as an affordable and healthy way to feed their children.
As family budgets face ever more pressure from the rising cost of living, school meals offer a hot and nutritious meal every day for children.
Our school meals service provides millions of meals a year to pupils in the county.
But as schools get back into full swing following the pandemic, we are boosting a series of initiatives designed to increase take-up. These include breaking down barriers faced by families eligible for free school meals. They also include:
The meals service ensures food is as fresh as can be; it ensures support for the local economy and contributes to reducing the county’s carbon footprint. 
“We have a good uptake of free school meals in North Yorkshire among families who are eligible. However, we believe every child should benefit from a healthy meal in school,” said Stuart Carlton, North Yorkshire Director of the Children and Young People’s Service. 
“More and more families need this support and we must ensure every child who is eligible for a free school meal gets one. 
“We are proud of the healthy, fresh meals we serve up in North Yorkshire’s schools each day and we want more children and young people to enjoy them. With the pressure on family budgets set to increase significantly, we are determined to make sure that everyone entitled to a free school mealis given one. 
“We all know that children learn best on a full tummy and that good nutrition is critical for their physical and educational development.”
School catering teams understand that often parents and carers opt for packed lunches over concerns their children won’t like the food on offer at school, or are picky eaters or due to peer pressure. This can create unnecessary costs and lead to poorer nutrition.
Stuart Carlton said: “Our catering teams are very used to dealing with this and making sure children are happy and fed at lunchtime. They often find that children are willing to try foods they see their friends and classmates enjoying.
“When education has been so disrupted, as during the Covid pandemic, a fresh, nutritious school meal is a healthy way for children to settle down in the school day and enjoy their food together rather than just snacking.
“We just want to ensure all our children are able to get the best out of teaching and learning and part of that is having access to good nutrition every day.”
When Vicki Logan, the Headteacher at Overdale Community Primary School, Scarborough, worked with architects on the design of her brand new £6m county council school, one of the first things she wanted was a central hall big enough for all the children to eat together. 
School meals are a critical part of the school day and 40 per cent of children at the school are eligible for free school meals with “20 to 30 per cent more on the cusp” according to Vicki. “These children are growing, they are very active, you cannot think if your belly is empty, if you don’t have proper nutrition,” she said.
Food plays an important part in school life at Overdale. The cook, Trina Cornwall, cooks her meals from scratch, fresh every day. She makes oat biscuits and provides toast and fruit and the children are given water and milk for a mid-morning snack. Bread is baked on the premises, pizzas are also made at the school; there is always a wide choice of salad and vegetables so that the children can try things out at lunch time.
There are feast days as well like the Christmas meal and end of year meal and at Easter, when the whole school sits down and eats together. The staff eat with the children often. Vicki Logan sits down with them three days out of the week “to make sure the quality is there”.
Children readily show their appreciation and those who take up free school meals are very open about the benefits.
Ali Ozcelik and Talia England in year 6 praise the choice and the encouragement pupils get to try things and say they would never have eaten fish before they took up school meals and now they do. “I like the fact there is fruit and a choice for vegetarians and vegans as well,” said Ali.
“I prefer to have a hot meal every day” said Bella Taylor, 11, and there is always a new thing on the menu to try.”
Talia who has a free school meal, talks about the benefit for her family. She said: “I like to have my meal at school because it helps my family – it means they don’t have to pay so much for food.”
Talia’s mother Kelly England, has four children, one now at university, and they all attend or have attended the school. Because her oldest son had diabetes she was anxious about taking up school food but she praises the care and choice at Overdale to accommodate all children with special dietary needs.
She said: “I am a big fan of the school meals here. The fact my children have a healthy meal in the middle of the day gives me peace of mind. They are now willing to try many different foods; they are less fussy and that’s important.
“I would say to parents who are eligible for free school meals ‘anything that helps your child helps you’.”
Kelsey Newsome and Sam Houghton both send children to Overdale and take up free school meals. “It’s nice for them to have a hot meal during the day when they are not at home,” said Sam “and they are much more willing to try different foods at home now.”
Kelsey said her daughter Nelley, 7, asked her to cook a chicken korma at home because she had seen it on the menu at school and wanted to try it. She now eats it at school when it is offered as well.  “It’s the variety of hot meals they get that is so great,” said Kelsey.
“When you are working like me it’s also good to know they are getting enough to eat and that their main meal is at school.
“My little one, Nancey is 4 in July and she loves to go into the big hall at school for dinner with her sister. She has come on leaps and bounds learning to use a knife and fork, It’s just brilliant for her.”
The Overdale dining hall is light and airy with long colourful dining trestles and chairs graded at different heights so all children can sit properly at the table..  “It’s very important that the children learn to eat together in a civilised way,” said Vicki Logan. “It is critical that children eligible for free school meals are getting them and we have seen our numbers go up since school returned following the pandemic.”
School cook Trina is proud of the increase in children taking up meals – out of a school of 219 pupils, 150 now have a school meal, and she is confident that number will grow.
She said: “I love my job. I love working with the children, knowing that my food is healthy and made by us on the premises; that it is as fresh as it can be; that it is benefiting them. .
“The world is a terrible place at the moment but we are doing our bit here to help our families.“
Find out more information on qualifying for free school meals and how to apply.

© 2021 North Yorkshire County Council
The county council provides services across North Yorkshire including Harrogate, Ripon, Scarborough, Whitby, Northallerton, Thirsk, Selby, Tadcaster, Malton, Pickering, Richmond, Skipton and more.


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