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New report highlights shocking impacts of poverty on children’s diets

The Children’s Future Food Inquiry report, released today, lays out the findings of a 12 month investigation into children’s food insecurity across the UK. The Food Foundation wanted to represent the voices of children and those working with children who have experience food poverty. The Inquiry’s evidence was gathered from nearly 400 children, and includes detailed analysis of food poverty from academic reviews, policy reviews and government data. 

One of the key areas of focus was schools, and among the report’s findings: 

  • Children reported that the Free School Meal allowance of £2.30 is insufficient to buy a filling meal. Those who came to school without breakfast had to choose between buying breakfast at school or a snack at break time and having a full meal at lunch.
  • Children told the inquiry that they had to spend their meal allowance on purchasing bottled water as water was not freely available.
  • It was widely reported that in schools healthy foods were the most expensive, and that there were not enough healthy options to choose from. The report found that overall unhealthy food is three times cheaper than healthy food.
  • Children explained that lunchtimes are not a priority in their schools. Lunchtimes are very short and are made shorter for the students by long queuing times. For classes with a late lunchtime slot, choices can be very limited, and many options run out.
  • Many children said that they would like more involvement from teachers in food issues in schools, including having the teachers queue and eat the school food with them. They wanted lunchtime to be a valued part of the day which supports students’ well-being and performance.
  • The stigma attached to receiving Free School Meals was also highlighted, with many children saying they or their parents were too embarrassed to claim them.

The Inquiry is proposing a Right2Food Charter, which presents the children’s own recommendations for improving their access to enough nutritious food. Their recommendations include:  

  1. A Healthy Lunch Guarantee for children at nursery, school and at home - Through increasing the offer of free school meals, improving the school fruit and veg scheme and by expanding holiday provision programmes
  2. Support for parents and carers to provide healthy food for their children at home - Through expanding the Healthy Start voucher scheme and introducing financial support for lower income families during school holidays
  3. Children’s Food Watchdog to monitor and improve children’s food - Through inspecting food in schools/nurseries, developing better food education with young people and providing stimulative learning environments.
  4. Tackling marketing of unhealthy food to children - By ending promotions of unhealthy food, funding better food education and increasing business rates for fast food near schools
  5. Stop the stigma associated with food poverty - By renaming Free School Meals as ‘school meal allowance’, increasing the meal allowance, and by making water freely available.

Hattie Shepherd, Soil Association's Policy Officer for Food and Health, says “Food for Life welcomes this report, which highlights the shocking effects of food poverty on our children. The findings are deeply concerning, particularly the fact that the Free School Meal allowance often cannot pay for what might be a child’s only hot and nutritious meal of the day. It is also heart-breaking to hear that children are missing out on receiving a free school lunch because of the stigma attached to food poverty. Children should feel that schools are prioritising their health and wellbeing, including the provision of good quality, affordable, healthy school food, and food education, but unfortunately this report has shown that this is not the case.

We strongly support the Inquiry’s ‘Children’s Right 2 Food Charter' and believe that this should be reinforced by an ambitious and robust Healthy Schools Rating Scheme, supported by Ofsted. It is shameful that the Government have still not introduced this policy, which has the potential to have a hugely positive impact on the future of millions of children in the UK.” 

Food for Life schools serve food which is guaranteed to meet, and at Silver and Gold exceed, the School Food Standards. Free drinking water that is easily available to children is provided in all Food for Life schools. 

Food for Life schools take a whole school approach to good food which involves everyone from the governors and headteacher, to school cooks and pupils. They provide food education as part of the curriculum, including growing and cooking skills. Find out more about the Food for Life School Awards programme.


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