Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit (SPIRU) research on 'Tackling Food Insecurity in Scottish Schools' highlights approaches which have demonstrable positive impact on raising uptake of free (and paid) school meals.
In some schools, involving children and young people in menu design has helped to increase school canteen use and overall meal uptake.
- Learners at Greenfaulds High School, North Lanarkshire said that quality and variety of food was a factor in school meal uptake. The catering team monitored which meals were most popular and consulted with learners so that they could deliver their preferences using fresh local ingredients. ‘Chef’s Specials’ and theme days are often held to sustain young people’s interest.
- Learners at Kirkcolm School in Dumfries and Galloway help to plan menus and the Globetrotters initiative which offers dishes inspired by other countries and cultures at lunchtime.
- At Dunoon Grammar School, Argyll and Bute, learner input led to successful initiatives like ‘Taco Tuesday’ and ‘Fish and Chip Friday’.
Better information about Free School Meals (FSM) in Shetland has been key to increasing canteen use. Schools were aware that some families were unaware they were eligible to apply or uncomfortable to ask for help. School staff were not always confident providing the correct information or support to families.
- At Sound Primary, teachers who were trusted by parents and in regular contact with them, were upskilled to provide the correct information, challenge misconceptions and signpost parents to other forms of support. This led to increased FSM registration and uptake.
In other schools, an environment and health focus has helped to boost uptake. Both St Bridget’s Primary, North Ayrshire and Halfmerke Primary School, South Lanarkshire tie canteen use to learning on food waste and the importance of healthy eating, with children taking part in healthy eating and zero waste talks and cooking activities.
Most secondary schools face challenges when it comes to young people leaving school grounds to purchase food in local shops and takeaways. Queues and atmosphere are often cited as reasons for to avoid the canteen. This can mean that learners eligible for free school meals do not use their allowance.
- At Dunblane High School, Stirling catering staff worked with learners and parents to redesign the canteen layout which was causing long queues. Queue times are now monitored to ensure no longer than a 10-15 minute wait.
- Whitehill Secondary School, Glasgow changed lunch time by half an hour to avoid a race to the shops with pupils from a neighbouring high school. Because young people from the other school now arrive first, it is less attractive for pupils at Whitehill and, over time, more have moved to staying in school for lunch.
- Dunoon Grammar, Argyle and Bute stopped S1 and S2 pupils leaving school premises at lunchtime. Although initially met with some opposition, it has helped build a culture where it is normal to eat in school. Hot meals are popular and overcrowding has been managed with pre-ordering systems and staggered lunch times.
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