National School Meals Week - Newham calls for investment into pupils’ food

Free school meals

• Front-running Eat for Free scheme serves 23,000 meals daily in Newham
• National School Meals Week marks its 30th year

Newham Council is celebrating its success this National School Meals Week, while also calling on the Government to extend Free School Meal provision to every primary school child in England, ending the school food postcode lottery.

Universal free school meals ensure every child has at least one balanced and nutritious meal a day. The local authority has seen improvements to pupils’ health, performance and attainment since its Eat for Free programme was first introduced in 2011. This offers all children in the borough’s primary schools a nourishing, hot meal every day – from jerk chicken to roast dinners.

Research shows eating a balanced and nutritious meal at lunchtime can improve concentration and behaviour during the afternoon. On top of improving diet quality and child health, data also suggests universal free school meals boost attainment, attendance, and increase a child’s lifetime earnings. This scheme also provides more security for families who save on food costs. This has been supported by feedback from our educators.

Councillor Mariam Dawood, Deputy Cabinet Member for Education, said:

“We are proud to offer every primary school pupil in Newham a free school meal. This not only allows them to feel full and happy, it impacts their concentration levels and allows them to get the most out of their education.

"We have written to the Prime Minister on this and we will continue to put pressure on the Government to extend Universal Free School Meal provision to every primary school child in England from 2024-2025.

“It is vital that the importance of providing healthy and nutritious lunches to pupils is considered – we are feeding and fuelling the next generation.”

Newham Council believes investment into school meals is the sensible choice. According to the ‘Feed the Future’ campaign, which is led by a coalition of organisations including School Food Matters, children who have free school meals are generally healthier.

The borough’s award-winning school meals provider, Juniper Ventures, prepares and serves more than 23,000 meals daily to almost 60 primary and secondary schools in Newham, 80 per cent of its staff are also residents. Juniper is the largest local authority controlled catering service in London, with 75 per cent of primary schools in Newham choosing the service. The team delivers Eat for Free in all of these schools.

Michael Hales, Managing Director, Juniper Ventures said:

“This year sees the 30th anniversary of National School Meal Week and I am delighted to have been involved in nearly every one of them! It is a great opportunity for all schools to celebrate all that is amazing about the hot, healthy and nutritious meals they eat each day in school. It also offers a chance to highlight nationally the financial and educational benefits experienced by pupils and their families across Newham from the ‘Eat for Free’ Scheme supported by the Mayor of Newham.

“The Juniper team is delighted to have hosted Newham’s new Chief Executive, Abi Gbago, in one of our school dining halls to mark this week, so she could experience first-hand the amazing food on offer. Local Councillors are also involved in visits.”

Newham Council is working hard to enhance the school dining experience. For example, through the use of so-called ‘butterfly queues’, and encouraging family style dining environments by placing side dishes and salads on tables, alongside cutlery, glasses and water jugs. The Eat for Free programme remains a resounding success throughout the borough. With secondary schools now receiving support to adopt a comprehensive approach to food and nutrition, building upon the foundation established by Eat for Free, it is hoped thousands more pupils will benefit.

The local authority is also encouraging its residents to consider catering roles within education settings. Figures show there are approximately 150,000 vacancies in the broader catering sector. The people cooking and serving the meals work hard and have the opportunity to see the impact of wholesome, nutritious and tasty food on young people.

If you would like more information about free school meals in Newham, please visit

Published: 08 Nov 2023