[WITHDRAWN] Providing school meals during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

Updated 5 October 2021

This guidance was withdrawn on

Applies to England

This guidance has been updated to provide information on the Household Support Fund.

Providing meals for pupils attending school

Schools should provide meal options for all pupils who are in school. Meals should be available free of charge to:

  • all infant pupils
  • pupils who meet the benefits-related free school meals eligibility criteria

The government will continue to provide schools with their expected funding for benefits-related free school meals and universal infant free school meals throughout this period.

Schools should speak to their school catering team or provider about the best arrangements for providing school meals for pupils in school.

Schools should make sure that they identify pupils with any medical conditions, including allergies, to ensure that all pupils are able to eat a school lunch safely. This is particularly important in circumstances where caterers are not serving meals to pupils directly but where for example, pupils are being served food in the classroom.

The Food Information Regulations 2014 require all food businesses including school caterers to show the allergen ingredients’ information for the food they serve. This makes it easier for schools to identify the food that pupils with allergies can and cannot eat. Further information is available in allergy guidance for schools.

All meals and other food provided during the school day, including in breakfast and after school clubs, must comply with the school food standards.


Drinking water must be provided free of charge at all times to registered pupils on the school premises.

Schools should consider the most appropriate way to do this if, for public health reasons pupils do not have access to water fountains.

Schools should take steps to limit the use of single-use plastic water bottles.

Support for pupils who have to stay at home

Under normal circumstances, schools do not provide free school meals to eligible children who are not in school. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we expect schools to continue supporting children eligible for benefits-related free school meals who are at home during term time.

Where pupils eligible for benefits-related free school meals are self-isolating at home, schools should work with their school catering team or food provider to provide good quality lunch parcels. This will ensure that eligible pupils continue to be supported for the short period where they are unable to attend school.

Providing lunch parcels through the school catering team or food provider

The government provides schools with funding to cover benefits-related free school meals. Where pupils eligible for benefits related free school meals are self-isolating at home during term time, schools should work with their school catering team or food provider to provide good quality lunch parcels.

The benefits of providing lunch parcels include:

  • the confidence that a nutritious and varied range of food is being provided in line with information published by the Lead Association for Catering in Education, and that meets the school food standards
  • being able to quickly set up provision as many school caterers will have experience of delivering lunch parcels
  • supporting safeguarding through the opportunity to maintain regular contact with vulnerable pupils and ensure they receive healthy nutritious food
  • reducing the risk of food waste, which catering suppliers may have already purchased

We have been working with the school food industry to explore the best possible arrangements where lunch parcels are needed.

Schools and families may find weekly collections of lunch parcels easier than a more frequent approach. Where parents are unable to collect the parcel, they can tell the school that they have asked a friend, volunteer or family member to collect it on their behalf.

Schools may wish to work with other local schools to provide food boxes where they are easier to deliver or collect from one location, or when supporting multiple children from the same family who attend different schools.

Lunch parcels should:

  • contain food items rather than pre-prepared meals due to food safety considerations
  • minimise the fridge and freezer space that schools and families will need to store foods
  • contain items which parents can use to prepare healthy lunches for their child/children across the week
  • not rely on parents having additional ingredients at home to prepare meals
  • not contain items restricted under the school food standards
  • cater for pupils who have special dietary needs, for example, vegetarians, religious diets, or pupils who cannot eat certain ingredients due to an allergy or other medical condition - schools should ensure there are systems in place to avoid cross-contamination
  • contain appropriate packaging sizes for household use, rather than wholesale sizes

The Lead Association for Catering in Education (LACA) have produced information on lunch parcels. It sets out some general principles for putting together a lunch parcel which will allow parents and carers to prepare simple and healthy lunches for their children at home across the week.

Lunch parcels must be distributed in line with guidance on social distancing at all times.

Free meals for further education students

Further education institutions should continue to support students who are eligible for free meals as normal. Institutions should also continue to support eligible students who are self-isolating due to COVID-19.

Further information is available in the 16 to 19 free meals in further education guidance.

Free school meal eligibility

The eligibility criteria for free school meals can be found at apply for free school meals.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we have temporarily extended free school meals eligibility to include some groups who have no recourse to public funds (NRPF).

This temporary extension is continuing and covers both pupils who are attending school and who are at home due to COVID-19.

See guidance on the temporary extension of free school meals eligibility to NRPF groups for more information.

Household Support Fund

A £500 million Household Support Fund is being run by local authorities.

Read more information on support for vulnerable families over winter.

It allows local authorities to directly help the hardest-hit families and individuals with daily needs such as food, clothing and utilities.

Local authorities have local ties and knowledge, making them best placed to identify and help those children and families most in need.

Expansion of the Holiday Activities and Food programme

In November, the government announced that the Holiday Activities and Food programme will expand in 2021. More information is available on the new winter package to provide further support for children and families.

Disadvantaged children across England are being offered free healthy meals and enriching activities over the Easter, summer and Christmas holidays.

Local authorities will receive funding to coordinate the delivery of the programme. Some may co-ordinate it themselves, and others may choose to work with another organisation to co-ordinate provision on their behalf.

The programme will make free places available to children who are eligible for free school meals for a minimum of 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, 6 weeks a year. This would cover 4 weeks in the summer, and a week’s worth of provision in each of the Easter and Christmas holidays.

Funding to local authorities will reflect the participation rate among eligible children, based on what we have seen in the pilot stage of this programme.

More information on the holiday activities and food programme is available.