Nutrition and school lunches
Your child could get free lunches or milk at school. Schools must provide free lunches for eligible pupils, paid-for meals where requested and good facilities and supervision so pupils can eat safely.
Free school lunches
Parents do not have to pay for school lunches if they receive any of the following:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- support under the Immigration and Asylum Act
- Child Tax Credit, provided they are not entitled to Working Tax Credit and have an annual income of less than £16,190
- Working Tax Credit “run-on” – the payment someone may receive for a further four weeks after they stop qualifying for Working Tax Credit
- Working Tax Credit, provided they have an annual income of less than £16,190 and the pupil attends a nursery or primary school*
- the Guarantee element of State Pension Credit
- their child has a statement of special educational needs and is designated to require a special diet, or he, or she, is a boarder at a special school
Children who receive Income Support, income-based Job Seeker's Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance in their own right qualify as well. All pupils who do not qualify for free school lunches must be charged the same amount, for the same quantity, of the same item.
*This criterion was introduced on a phased basis from September 2010. Those eligible from September 2010 were full-time nursery pupils, Foundation Stage pupils and Key Stage 1 pupils in primary schools and those of equivalent age in special schools. Key Stage 2 pupils became eligible from September 2011.
- Income Support (money, tax and benefits section)
- Jobseeker's Allowance (money, tax and benefits section)
- Tax credits (money, tax and benefits section)
Apply for free school lunches
You can get more details on how to apply for free school lunches from the education and library board for the area in which you live. You can also find out more on the Education Support website.
- Education and Library Boards (contacts section)
- Free School Meals (Education Support for Northern Ireland website)
School lunches and other food
As your children spend much of their time in school, it is vital that the food their school offers is nutritious and beneficial to long-term health. This includes food that is available in the canteen, vending machines and tuck shops. A healthy, balanced diet is not only vital for your child’s long-term health and well-being, it also aids learning in the classroom and leads to improved educational outcomes.
The ‘Food in Schools’ policy, launched in September 2013, will help ensure that your child can not only avail of healthy and nutritious food at school, but that they can also develop the knowledge and skills to enable them to make healthy eating choices and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.
Further information on the ‘Food in Schools’ policy and the standards of nutrition is available on the Department of Education website.
To help you pack a healthy balanced lunch for your child, the Public Health Agency (PHA) has produced a booklet with tips and suggestions
The booklet is called "Are you packing a healthy lunch?" and can be downloaded below from the PHA website.
Free school milk is provided to all pupils at special schools, to those in other schools where it is necessary for their health and where a pupil does not have access to school meals. Pre-school pupils are also eligible for free milk under the Day Care Food Scheme administered by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
Subsidised milk is available to nursery, primary and post-primary pupils through the EU School Milk Subsidy Scheme administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.