FREE school meals are set to be rolled out across Hampshire in a bid to introduce healthy foods to children at a younger age.
The government-funded Universal Infant Free School Meals scheme will start from September. Infant, primary and special schools will each receive £2 per meal for children in reception, Year One and Year Two.
The public health team in Portsmouth hopes it will educate children about balanced diet and reduce the prevalence of conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.
Health development manager for Portsmouth City Council Andrea Wright said: ‘Children who are well nourished and are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to grow and develop are more likely to be in the right frame of mind to learn and achieve.
‘Looking to the future, children who eat well at a young age are more likely to do so as they get older. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight can have positive long-term health impacts including reducing the likelihood of developing conditions such as heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.’
The city council received £488,000 from the government to cover costs such as buying equipment, kitchen upgrades, transport, and modifications to dining halls. It has spent £125,000 itself.
Hampshire County Council has spent £6.2m.
Figures show almost 10 per cent of reception-aged children in Portsmouth – 216 pupils aged four to five – are classed as obese under the National Child Measurement Programme, which measures the height and weight of youngsters aged between four and 11. That figure doubles to 20 per cent of those aged 10 or 11.
In Hampshire, 1,769 – or 15 per cent – of pupils in the same age range are classed as obese.
Councillor Neill Young, the city council’s cabinet member for children and education, said: ‘We want to get children thinking about healthier foods and exercising from a young age so they carry this into the future.’
Examples of meals include salmon and broccoli quiche with new potatoes, baked sweet chilli chicken wrap with a potato salad and mandarins with ice cream.
For more on concerns about the strain of obesity on health services click here.