Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Friday, 1 May 2009 09:11 UK

Free school meals scheme unveiled

Children eating
The scheme will assess the benefits of a hot meal for schoolchildren

Free school meals are to be offered to all primary schoolchildren in two local authorities in a bid to boost their health and wellbeing.

From September, County Durham and Newham in London will take part in the two-year-pilot scheme.

In addition, in Wolverhampton, means-testing for free meals will be altered so that more pupils qualify.

The government will fund half the £40m project, with the rest coming from the councils involved.

'Missing out'

The pilots aim to find out whether free school meals reduce obesity, improve academic performance, and improve eating habits at home.

Results will be evaluated by the National Centre for Social Research.

Children's Secretary Ed Balls said: "Healthy school dinners feed the minds and bodies of our children helping them to get the most out of their school day, and these pilots will let us understand the benefits of a hot dinner for all pupils.

"We are determined that those eligible for free school meals but not claiming them, do so.

"It is not good enough that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are missing out on a free healthy meal every school day."

Health Secretary Alan Johnson added: "All parents want to give their children the best possible start in life, and improving access to healthy food in schools is one way we can help."

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