School meals don’t always have the best reputation. The stereotype is often soggy peas, mushy chips, and some kind of unidentifiable grey meat. However, in many European countries school meals are reputed to be tasty, healthy, and wholesome. A typical Italian school meal of fresh pasta, fish, two kinds of salad, rocket and caprese, a bread roll and grapes certainly sounds much more appetising than the canned sausages and baked beans that British students chow down on.

What is common in most countries, however, is that school meals are not free. Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Estonia are rare exceptions, providing free school meals to all pupils in compulsory education, regardless of their parents’ income. But is it time for more countries to follow their example?

Britain (infamous for its soggy peas) re-introduced free school meals in 2014, albeit only for younger children. So, what has been the experience of the UK’s policy of free school meals for infants? Has it been a success, especially in terms of getting children to eat more healthily? Or has it been a vanity project for the government and a complete waste of money?

We had a comment from Nando, who points out that many schools lack the funding to provide things like healthy meals (though he wants to see much greater government investment in education to counteract this).

Certainly, when the UK introduced its free school meals policy it was discovered that thousands of schools lacked suitable kitchen facilities, forcing them to invest money in everything from a new microwave or dishwasher, to a complete refurbishment. In addition, the British government has been accused of “quietly” dropping additional funding for smaller schools, leaving them with an additional burden.

We recently spoke to Myles Bremner, former National Director for the School Food Plan, a national plan published by the UK Department for Education in 2013 that formed the basis of the current free school meals policy. How would he respond to Nando’s comment?

bremnerWhen the policy was announced, it was recognised early on that schools needed help with improving their kitchen facilities and dining room infrastructure. Over the year that schools had to get ready, over £20 million in capital funding was provided by the Department for Education to improve kitchen and dining infrastructure.

There are still some schools – too many, sadly – that do not have a school kitchen, and those schools rely on transported meals. It is the intention and desire, where it is economically feasible, to have a production kitchen, because if you prepare food on-site then the quality of the food is better, and the connection to food is stronger for the students.

Regarding the second part of the question, the government made the decision to allocate £2.30 for each meal served in the Universal Infant Free School Meals. For most schools, nearly all schools, £2.30 is a fair price. For some of the smaller schools, however, particularly where under 100 students are served a day, the economy of school meals can make it hard to break even at £2.30 per meal. The School Food Plan recognised that those schools should receive an extra subsidy, and for 2 years, the government did provide that. However, since last September, there is indeed an extra burden.

We had a comment from Vinko, who strongly believed that schools were responsible for keeping young people fit and healthy. But does this apply only to younger students, or to all students?

Another common criticism of the UK’s Universal Infant Free School Meals policy is that it is only for the youngest children, up to age 7. Should it be expanded to include all primary school students, up to age 11?

bremnerWhen the School Food Plan was published in July 2013, it was the intention that free school meals should be made available to all primary school children, i.e. aged 5 to 11. The UK government announced the infant schools policy as a first step towards the roll-out, but as yet have made no plans as to when the policy will be rolled out to more children.

Since the publication of the School Food Plan, the authors, and many other people in the food sector, believe it should be rolled out to all children, as in Sweden and Finland, because the benefits to health and well-being are proven, and [universal school meals] can help tackle the obesity and poor health crisis.

Finally, we had a comment from Mariana, who questioned whether it was really the government’s job to be providing healthy meals to children. Isn’t it up to parents to feed their children healthy food?

bremnerSchools have a statuary responsibility to look after children, and my personal view, strongly held, is that as well as educating children in academia, schools have an important role in looking after children’s well-being.

Some schools do apply standards to packed lunches, and insist that if students do want to bring a packed lunch to school then it must be healthy. However, the truth is that only 1% of packed lunches meet nutritional standards. Too often, they contain crisps, fizzy drinks, sweets, and not much else.

Lunchtime is in the middle of the school day, so it makes sense that schools should also be made responsible for the health of children at that time. I believe the government should encourage all schools to make the decision that school meals should be the only food made available.

So, in answer to the question, the solution is for schools and parents to work together to improve the health of students. But, ultimately, the responsibility for children’s health should lie with schools during school hours.

Should school meals be free? Do schools have a responsibility to provide healthy meals to children? Or should it be up to parents? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: Copyright / BigStockPhoto – HighwayStarz

67 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    catherine benning

    In the UK several children who attended school were being starved to death by their parents. Yet, not one of the teachers or those in charge noticed. Unbelievable but true. A sweet little boy who was digging for food in the rubbish cans at his school was not fed or shown any kind of comfort by those adults who surrounded him..


    And this atrocious case. The parents should have been jailed for life in both cases. And those in power around them brought to trial for neglect.


    A lot of this horror gets hidden by social services and the authorities in general so, yes, every school must supply free meals. Making sure of course those free meals are good healthy food and not GM infested or hormone infested junk food. That won’t help anyone to live a healthy life. It will simply make them obese if that happens.

    • avatar

      Nothing is free. If it’s provided at schools cost free you can be assured it will be paid by the tax incomes of everybody. What you speak of where parents weren’t feeding their children is disgraceful to put it politely. But I don’t think that 5 meals a week will really fix it. In fact if anything it may well help to hide the symptoms, meaning it may take even longer for the problem to show itself. Also, doesn’t the state provide free school meals for those below a certain threshold of income for all ages? They certainly did when I was at school.

  2. avatar
    Tony Muñiz

    Nothing is free. Who pays for it? Via more taxes? Why should I pay more taxes if I don’t have children, and my neighbors have eight? But yes, schooling should be free, books, lunch etc. A nation where we have to pay for school books, like I do for my child which averages 300€ per year, is a failed nation. And that is exactly what Spain is.

    • avatar

      Please explain how it eliminates class decide?

  3. avatar

    Besides the points I made in my previous comments, and moving now to the problem to be solved, school meals are a complex problem that needs to be addressed from various perspectives beyond just the “free or not school meal question”.
    – school kitchens are not the best under the sun;
    – students of all ages hate school meals (just the food? or the environment as well?);
    – school canteens treat children often in a very unfriendly regimented way;
    – there are children in great need of “free meals”, for a few reasons that go from financial need to waking up late and not eating at home, absolutely yes;
    – these children who do not eat well at home need a morning supplement just to stay awake in class, free or not;
    – parents who can give students pocket money that they end up using to buy “junk food” at local shops instead of eating at the school canteen;
    – local businesses provide children with perhaps more tasty food but not necessarily more nutritious food;
    – school kitchens directly compete with local business!
    This is the scenario that needs to be considered and addressed.
    I do not have plausible solutions, but the issue of “school meals” is a much more complex problem than the “free meal” question. This whole problem needs to be holistically addressed.

  4. avatar
    Hector Niehues-Jeuffroy

    I think it should depend on whether school goes for the whole day (e.g. 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.) or not. If you force children to be at school the whole day (and why shouldn’t you?), the school should be responsible for providing children with meals. Additionally, this would give the education system the opportunity to ensure that children have at least one nutritious meal per day.

  5. avatar
    Belamie Versco

    There is always a limited choice of menus in school kitchens, which mostly I would not eat even if they were for free…

    • avatar

      Yes and it gets worse with specific dietary requirements for medical, ethical or religious reasons. When I was in school I took a packed lunch. This seems to suggest eliminating that choice.

  6. avatar
    José Bessa da Silva

    All meals in all public schools should be free. And not only that. It should be mandatory for all kids in said schools to eat in the schools buffet. Finally, meals should be confectioned thinking about the wealth of the students and that can only be achieved by nationalizing the catering lobby. None of this is of EU’s competence and would actually be harmful to let the EU legislate over the subject as the EU is a corrupt riden pro-lobby institution who’s sole purpose with this subject would be financing with public money the private catering industry.

  7. avatar
    Enric Mestres Girbal

    Free????NOT, part of it should be paid by the family and the price of it should not be to enrich third parties. In Spain the school child’s menu cost +-6€….and adult menu in a restaurant 9,50€. Of course, the firm supplying school -or hospital menus- is relatad to the politicians in power.

  8. avatar
    Stefania Portici

    col Fiscal Compact imposto dalla UE i pasti alla mensa scolastica non sono più gratuiti ( grazie UE :( ) e dal prossimo anno la mensa alla scuola media è stata tolta ( grazie UE :( ) . Il costo dei buoni pasto varia da comune a comune ( io pagavo euro 2,50 a buono pasto e chi ha più figli il secondo viene dimezzata la spesa ) . La mensa ha funzionato sempre molto bene perchè sono i pediatri e nutrizionisti a fare il menù e seguono le mense , entrando anche nelle cucine, che il cibo sia sano. Per gli allergici il menù è diverso . Si, la mensa dovrebbe essere gratuita almeno fino alla fine della scuola dell’obbligo , come anche i libri dovrebbero essere gratuiti ( grazie UE che accolli ai genitori tutte le spese per l’istruzione dei figli. Quanto ci manca lo Stato ! )

  9. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    EU’s role in education is STILL limited to “supporting, coordinating or complementary actions”!

    Isn’t it a maneuver to further undermine & CAPTURE one last national competence- EDUCATION & determine costs? Why would Brussels worry and suddenly become parental patrons by “releasing” parents from their parental love, care & duties?

    Everything to become “free”! It’s laughable. Who pays? JCJ & friends? Great but fake!

    They give with one hand to take with the other & introduce an ever growing dependency on the EU & a totalitarian social system? It could recklessly add to national debt in collaboration with banks- who always laugh last! It is creeping privatization of education- for profit. Or- maybe they seek to finance the growing demand of future poor refugee school goers- who never intend to return home? Oh so holy!

    I doubt that anybody in the EC or EU court is honestly concerned about what children eat in school and who will finance it! Cradle to grave extreme socialism? It creates a creeping and total dependency of tax payers & consumers to the “all so generous” political elite.

    I appreciate the convenience of the provision of a catering SERVICE in certain instances, but rather carry my own cost- should I chose to use such SERVICE.

    Since education is ALSO classified “a SERVICE” by the EU- it is being stealthily privatized & “Eu-nisized” in preparation to be taken over fully by the EUSSR one day. The EU is meddling once more in matters which should NOT be an EU concern or competence! http://en.euabc.com/word/323

  10. avatar
    Shaun Quinton

    Nothing is free in life , someone as to pay for it !! Usually tax contributions from people who work

  11. avatar
    Paul X

    A school’s job is to educate young people

    It is a parents job to ensure their children get a healthy meal and if they cannot afford (or most likely, be bothered) to do this then they should not have become parents in the first place

    It would be far better to spend the taxpayers money on free contraception for such irresponsible individuals

    • avatar

      You think irresponsible people use contraception? How then have STD’s not been eradicated?

  12. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    It appears ~50% (pro) EU commentators- believe in the “free lunch” fallacy- thinking if anything is offered for free- it is so- and one must accept such bargain- or?

    How naive & gullible to think any SERVICE offered by any government is for free!

    What can one expect from the many new & poorer EU members- who used to receive “everything for free” during Soviet rule- including a FREE “straight jacket” and constant brainwashing!

    Is there any hope that a majority would have progressed & learned to say “no thank you” to a free lunch? Europe is auctioned off to the sliest bidder- to corporatism and privatization- assisted by their most obedient political henchmen. God save Europe’s mindset!

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ EU reform- proactive

      ‘Free’ at the point of use is the best way to reduce fraud.

      And I have to add, what are we paying taxes for? Gun and war? Fat cats pretending to be leaders in so called government? ~What exactly are we paying for if not for ‘our’ health and safety? Would you prefer to see our European children resemble neglected and abused third world offspring?

      Immigrants, illegal or otherwise, once here, have to be fed anyway. Surely making certain they are fed food and not abused and used by their minders is a good way to reduce that direct cost. Another good way has to be not to give spending money but to supply what they need and watch it used for what it was given. Not to fund other activities they prefer to use our money for.

      The biggest laugh to terrorists is that we pay our taxes so they can cream it to buy and pay for their killing devices. In other words funding our own slaughter.

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Catherine, your two links are heartbreaking! Surely, crimes against children perpetrated by parents or caretakers boggle the mind of any caring person. Such crimes however are dealt & prosecuted in the NATIONAL criminal courts and should not become a reason for the EU to introduce an additional obligatory SERVICE with costs to everyone in all members states.

      Brexit has de facto “freed” the UK from Brussels and you can choose in future how best to deal with such horrific internal problems.


    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ EU reform- proactive

      Oh, I wish you were right. Our present ‘Remain’ Prime Minister is refusing to take the necessary steps for us to withdraw from EU domination. She will not activate Article 50 or make serious steps in other directions to free us of this union.

      On top of that, even should she begin the process of separation, we unfortunately will remain members for at least two more years. So, whilst I look forward to the day when we can truly claim independence, I continue to have to live under the oppression of this group of hypocrites.

      Yes, these children’s stories are heartbreaking, but more, is the heartbreaking news coming out of California, Australia and elsewhere, of dreadful abuse of children who were purchased by men, under Western Gay rights law of Europe and the West in general, to turn a blind eye to facts they refuse to deal with. Yet, put on our television a documentary last night trying to persuade us this law was and is good for children. When watching said documentary it appears from their stance the teenagers used to promote this political move are dreadfully unhappy.. Here are the links. The first has only one paper here in the UK ready to pick it up.


      And here we see another gay couple obsessed with raising surrogate children they manufacture through science and now have five. The older two getting a bit too ancient for childish fun. The boy Aspen in this video has been given a Porsche and Rolex for his 16th birthday. Rather odd and lavish gifts for such a young person don’t you think?


      I wonder if they need free school meals?

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Catherine, surely you have many super “legal eagles” in the UK to consider the courts to compel the PM to act. It was D.C’s initiative, undertaking & promise in 2012? to hold a referendum. That should make it binding on the “honorable” crowns government since it came from the gov. & was not demanded by voters (“advisory”)!

      At the least, the PM should be set an ultimatum to commit & publish a timetable! Somebody needs to get tough with the tough ones!

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ EU reform- Proactive

      Yes, we do have hot legal eagles who could and should be leaning on them so hard they fall flat on their faces, but, these same lawyers are making billions out of tax payer funded ‘legal aid’ if they remain. The bill, for example, for millions of illegal immigrants keeps them in nice good size houses, both here in the UK and second homes abroad. So, you see, it would be cutting off their noses to spite their face if they remove us from EU laws regarding this free for all to feed off the Inland Revenue.

      Additionally many of them are receiving huge pay offs from your European tax cash to keep quiet, as so many of them are still linked to the pension schemes they have relating to EU set up and so on. In essence, your citizens are funding our lawyers to keep us panting at the door of suicidal unity.

      Hundreds of immigrants in our country are lawyers, who, akin to the judge in the South African Pistorius case, have vested interests in remaining within a group that shelters them from reality. She being ready to forgive the horrendous rage of jealous murder, rather than upset the apple cart there.

      Here is a revered advisory legal eagle on these matters who explains it in lawyer speak. Obviously you can read they are still out in left field, looking for an excuse to ignore public will, rather than put their brilliant minds to the task of setting us free. Pathetic is what it is.


      In other words, they are in a flux as they try desperately to cover their own arses after being hit with a deluge of true and unexpected democracy.

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Yes Catherine, establishment visa electorate- it can be frustrating!

      Just a posting hint: should you wish to reply to an original post, please click on the original comment under “Write a reply”- it will automatically sort itself at the bottom and not show under a different person’s comment- being “scattered” all over.

      Flying over Mark Elliots comment- your “good” law Prof’s “endless” theoretical deliberations appear very EU biased (the EU stars are watching). It lacks simple legal clarity for ordinary folks – presents several options & but no clear outcome. “The usual professional disclaimer applies”- typical legal blah- blah! He seems to support- as is EU tradition- to repeat any unsuitable democratic outcome, until it complies to the “EU Master Plan”. It is the EU trademark!

      Because of the Brexit consequences, the complications & difficulties, he rather questions direct democracy (referendum), labels the result largely “meaningless”, by arguing that the UK is fundamentally a parliamentary democracy. He even insinuates that your UK PM may lack “decision making” authority (an instant suiting the “Remainers”) by needing a sort of parliamentary backing or “resolution” every time he makes decisions! Surely, your Brexit referendum was discussed & consented to in your parliament. Absurd to assume otherwise! PM executive power makes more sense & his ending by- “there is no legal obligation to hold a second referendum” sounds logical.

      Your Prof Elliot is lecturing- not practicing & defending- (anti democratic) injustices in your (Constitutional) Court. He uses the safety, comfort of a university consultancy- not being exposed to the tough environment & financial risk of a private law firm. Somebody rich, independent, fearless & honestly patriotic needs to “sponsor” such case- to get on with Brexit.

      At the least, all your politicians should be reminded to “work harder & produce” for receiving their public salaries.

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Catherine, to conclude & in the meantime: heard your “political mother Theresa” (next to Obama) commit the UK to a non-reversal & irrevocable Brexit during the G20 press statement yesterday- without any doubt & ifs & buts. Forget & ignore the 48%’s onslaught of fruitless attempts! It will end all positive for the UK, keep up the spirit & good luck!

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ EU reform- proactive

      I had replied to your post addressing me above, but, for some reason the moderators felt it not politically correct enough to publish. Why is an enigma? However it did explain how bent the affair is, so that could be the answer.

  13. avatar

    No one dies in Europe because of no food.

    Help people not to die at the EU-borders. Make them have enough food in Africa. Don’t destroy their economy with TISA, TTIP, CETA. That would be your job. Why you don’t do your job?

  14. avatar
    Anti-EU Citizen

    It should be free only for migrant and non european childrentld. The autohotonus children should be made to pay double because of white guilt

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Anti-EU Citizen

      Can you please explain why you feel migrant children and non European children are not being fed by their parents and families? And why it is you expect European ‘white’ people to feel guilty for ‘black’ neglect of their offspring need for food? Don’t you think they should be accountable for their own nurture and welfare? Why would these individuals want the dreadful white people to foot the bill for their irresponsibility?

    • avatar

      White guilt? Everyone who is Caucasian is guilty? Guilty of what? This kind of talk sounds familiar, somebody suggested everyone born Jewish was automatically guilty too didn’t they? I just hate this racist kind of rhetoric!

  15. avatar
    Gavin Crowley

    I find it to be an odd question. I’ve never been in a school that provided school meals, and I’ve been in many schools. There was a scheme in one of them where you could have a sandwich delivered. How many countries provide school meals?

  16. avatar

    Well if you ask me school is mandatory…… So school meals should also be apart of the package…. It really pisses me off that they make you put your child into education and then make you pay for there food also….. I’m sorry but I’ll happily keep my children at home and feed them my self whilst they learn at home perfectly fine…… I think it’s crazy that the government can get away with this to be honest you get punished twice essentially…….I got a great idea how about we stop funding foreign aid and the gravy train aka the EU and we put the money where it is really needed ? ?

  17. avatar

    Hi I think that school meals should be free unless the school hires a company to come in and cook for the children. The school meals should come part of the package when you start the school as this comes under caring for the children.

  18. avatar

    Why do you think school meals are a waste fo money?

  19. avatar

    Why is school meals a waste of money?

  20. avatar
    Estela Gaspar

    I can’t believe simple things like school meals are such a problem in this country. More and more is demanded from both parents to work. Many children have poor parents and the school meals are probably the only meal they have during the day. So yes, school meals are obligatory to be free. If all children must be at school by law then by law they should be fully protected and that means having FREE school meals. It is gobsmacking we feed our military staff for free and we spend so much money on defense but we do not do the same for the future of this country. If we want both parents to work then we need to be realistic and creating the conditions for that to work. I grew up with schools with own catering, where REAL food was offered to the children. It is sad to see what the children nowadays are offered to eat in the same place they should be educated to have a healthy diet. Are our children worth so little consideration? Then we have adults appearing with health problems later on and we all pay an NHS bill that could be avoided if more consideration, care, thought and love was put into education and the future of a nation!

  21. avatar

    School accessorirs are expensive, food should be free.

  22. avatar

    Yes totally agree except in free schools where you don’t pay in every month for your education

  23. avatar
    anna white

    WOW! just WOW school lunch should be free because some cant aford 10 15 20 dollar meals every day

  24. avatar

    At our school it costs money and no one gets starved to death all that stuff is fake what you say

  25. avatar

    Definitely school lunches should be free. We don’t want our lunches to cost money!

Your email will not be published

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of new comments. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More debate series – Food for Thought View all

By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies on your device as described in our Privacy Policy unless you have disabled them. You can change your cookie settings at any time but parts of our site will not function correctly without them.