Families across North Yorkshire are being encouraged to take up school meals as an affordable, healthy way to feed their children.

As family budgets face pressure from the rising cost of living, school meals offer children a hot, nutritious meal every day.

Our school meals service provides millions of meals a year to pupils in the county.

We’re encouraging even more people to take up the service.

Initiatives include:

  • giving children the chance to try new foods before they are served;
  • street food options to attract older students;
  • menus designed with children in mind through feedback and consultation with school cooks;
  • and exciting promotion days, such as Chinese New Year and World Book Day.

“We have a good uptake of free school meals in North Yorkshire among families who are eligible,” said Stuart Carlton, 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 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.

Our catering teams are 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.

What’s on the menu?

  • Fresh meat and poultry is Red Tractor meat, sourced within the UK from animals reared to the highest standards
  • Fish is sustainably caught
  • Fruit and vegetables are sourced locally where possible
  • Eggs are free range and come from Yorkshire
  • Meals are free from health-harming additives
  • All school meals are nutritionally balanced and cooked from scratch in a school kitchen each day.

Find out more about school meals.

When Vicki Logan, Headteacher at Overdale Community Primary School, Scarborough, worked with architects on the design of her new £6m county council school, she wanted a central hall big enough for all the children to eat together. 

School meals are a critical part of the 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.

Overdale cook Trina Cornwall cooks meals from scratch 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 made at the school; there is always a wide choice of salad and vegetables so children can try things out at lunchtime.

Staff eat with the children. Vicki sits down with them three days out of the week “to make sure the quality is there”.

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.

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, 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, seven, 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 four 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.”

Kath Breckon, who trains North Yorkshire’s school cooks, is passionate about good food for children.

As schools get back into full swing following the Covid pandemic, Kath Breckon is determined that as many children and young people as possible will share a freshly cooked nutritious school meal and is working hard with her cooks to bring that about. 

As part of the training, she therefore encourages her cooks to find many different ways of persuading families to take up school meals for their children and for children to try different foods and menus.

Kath, who is a fully qualified chef, worked as a school cook for nine years before taking up her current role. During that time she became School Chef of the Year in the LACA awards – the national school food body. She was also Primary School Caterer of the Year. She is the only front-line school worker to sit on the LACA board.

She said: “We cook our food fresh across North Yorkshire and our cooks, who become qualified chefs, go through all the nutrition and allergen training. They all know how critical a healthy meal is in the middle of the school day. 

“For some of our children it is the only meal they will get, so we also train our cooks to engage with children and to make sure they are eating well and enjoying their food. To me, there is nothing more important.”

Kath added: “When they start their training, many of our school cooks are surprised that the food is all freshly cooked and much of it locally supplied, but they soon realise that our training is to a very high standard. I am passionate that children get good food when they are at school and our cooks soon share the enthusiasm.

“Many of them go above and beyond to encourage children to eat healthily and to enjoy the variety of meals on offer. As the cost of living rises and family budgets are squeezed, nothing can be more important than ensuring children have the chance of at least one nutritious meal a day.”