Take up of school meals on the up in Leeds

Every day, an extra 1060 children in Leeds are having a school dinner compared to last year, ensuring they get at least one, healthy nutritious meal a day.

This includes a six per cent increase in the uptake of free school meals, which means 580 extra children are getting the free school meal they are entitled to.

Leeds City Council’s catering service - Catering Leeds, has been working hard with schools across the city to raise the profile of free school meals, as well as reducing the stigma often attached to the free provision.

Parents and carers of all children starting primary and secondary school were given an advice leaflet and schools with low uptake were contacted directly to make sure that all parents are aware of how to claim their Free School Meals allowance.

Last week’s release of the national Independent School Food Plan, produced by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, demonstrated how Catering Leeds is leading the way on school meal provision, with two members of the council’s catering services being on the panel of experts which helped advise the authors.

One of the suggestions from the plan was to consider banning packed lunches, however Leeds created a packed lunch policy four years ago to help parents make the most nutritious choices for their children, which has been adopted by many Leeds schools. Catering Leeds also offer schools a healthy packed lunch as one of the options in their daily menu.

Councillor Peter Gruen, executive member responsible for neighbourhoods, planning and support services said:

"The work being done by our catering service to increase the uptake of school meals, and especially free school meals, is fantastic. They also encourage schools to look beyond lunchtime and include healthy food and nutrition in the whole school day by promoting growing clubs whose produce is then used in the school kitchen. They also carry out cookery classes to teach students and parents the value of healthy eating and how to make quick, affordable, healthy meals which taste great.”

Councillor Judith Blake, executive member for children’s services said:

“Providing great quality school meals is a high priority for the council because we believe nutrition is key to children’s academic success. We are pulling all the stops out to encourage school meal take up, including, most importantly children taking up their free school meal entitlement.”

Mandy Snaith, head of catering at Leeds City Council:

“Catering Leeds works closely with head teachers to put school food high up on the agenda of the school day. Work has included devising menus which meet individual school need, for instance halal menus where required and meeting special dietary needs for those children who require it. We have also invited parents in to sample the meals and this has proved hugely successful in increasing take up.

“In Leeds we provide as many freshly cooked dishes as possible and all our fresh food suppliers are local.

Catering Leeds also works closely with student council groups and in Leeds have adopted the School Food Ambassador programme, where students work alongside the cooking team to monitor meals, wastage and the whole dining experience.


The Independent School Food Plan, produced by Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, which was released last week includes an action plan to promote further uptake of school meals.

• The report argues only 1% of packed lunches meet current nutritional standards for school dinners.

• It recommends cooking lessons for children under 14. It also recommends the Government move to look at implementing a revised set of simple food standards being applied to all schools, including academies and free schools (which are currently exempt from them).

• The report found enormous improvements in school catering since 2005 when Jamie Oliver initiated his campaign. The report also found best schools did a great job of weaving food education into the school, even growing and then cooking food in the school.


For media enquiries, please contact:

Emma Whittell, Leeds City Council press office, on (0113) 2474713

Email: emma.whittell@leeds.gov.uk