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Last Updated: Monday, 22 October 2007, 11:10 GMT 12:10 UK
Schools begin free meals scheme
School dinners
A huge increase has been forecast in school meal uptake
Primary pupils are starting to receive free school meals as part of a pilot project in five parts of Scotland.

The scheme for all children in the first three years of school is under way in Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire.

They will be followed in the coming days and weeks by schools in East Ayrshire, Fife and the Borders.

The Scottish Government has invested 5m in the pilot scheme, with about 8,500 additional pupils expected to take up the offer in Glasgow alone.

The city already has free fruit, milk and mains-fed water coolers in its schools.

The six-month pilot has been set up to see if providing a nutritious lunch for all children could help improve their diets.

Today is a defining moment
Bob Doris MSP

Bailie Gordon Matheson, executive member for education and social renewal, was delighted that Glasgow was one of the five local authorities to be part of the trial.

He said: "This pilot is yet another way for our pupils to get involved in Glasgow's healthy eating effort and for free.

"There is currently around a 65% uptake of primary school meals and it is envisaged that during the trial this will rise to around 85%.

"My hope is that both parents and pupils will benefit from this initiative and will use this opportunity for a healthy, nutritious and hot meal each lunchtime."

Children in the first three years of primary school will be encouraged to choose a three course meal including soup and bread, a main meal choice, fruit, yoghurt and drinks including milk, water and fruit juice.

Adam Ingram MSP
Adam Ingram said he hopes the scheme can be rolled out nationally

Linda Shaw, catering manager for West Dunbartonshire, said: "We don't put salt in, we add herbs and spices to compensate for that so the pupils don't notice that they're getting a healthier meal.

"Their eating habits will change dramatically."

Adam Ingram, the children's minister, said: "This is about more than school meals.

"These children will get the chance to sit down and eat with friends every day to develop a taste for healthier foods together. We hope these good lifestyle habits will stay with them as they grow up."

Mr Ingram has already told MSPs that the Scottish Government hopes to roll the scheme out to all pupils in the first three years of primary school if the pilot project is a success.

Such a move would cost between 30m and 46m a year.

'Step change'

Professor Derek Colquhoun, from Hull University's Centre for Education, carried out research into a similar free school meals scheme in Hull.

He said: "Even if, like Hull, schools do offer free food, you don't get more than 65-70% of children taking up these free meals, simply because some children don't like the meals and some parents like to give their kids packed lunches.

"So we think 65-70% is really what the scheme should be aiming for."

Glasgow MSP Bob Doris has campaigned for free school meals.

He said: "Today is a defining moment.

"It is a step change for both the health of Glasgow and the social cohesion of our city's communities."

'Huge impact'

The Child Poverty Action Group hailed the move as a "massive step forward".

John Dickie, head of the campaign group in Scotland, said: "Universal free school meals could make a huge impact in tackling family poverty and improving children's health and ability to learn.

"The sooner the Scottish Government rolls out free school meals to all children the better so it is vital that the pilot programme succeeds.

"Providing high-quality nutritious meals in attractive surroundings and ensuring that pupils, teachers and parents are involved in the pilots at every stage will be crucial to that success."

Inside one of the schools conducting the trial

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