Universal free school meal uptake in an urban community

Factors associated with universal infant free school meal take up and refusal in a multicultural urban community

Goodchild et al., JHND Early View


Universal infant free school meals (UIFSM) were introduced in September 2014 and are available to all key stage 1 (4–7 years) children attending state-maintained infant and primary schools in England. The present study aimed to investigate the school-based factors, child and family socio-demographic characteristics, and parental beliefs associated with UIFSM take up in an urban community.


A cross-sectional questionnaire survey was completed in October to November 2015, amongst parents whose children attended eligible schools in Leicester, England. A questionnaire about school meals was also completed by each school.


Parents reported their child did not take (non-UIFSM, n = 159) or took (UIFSM, n = 517) a UIFSM on most days. The non-UIFSM group were more likely to be White-British, have a higher socio-economic status, have English as a first language, and involve their child in the decision over whether or not to take UIFSM, compared to the UIFSM group. Cluster analysis revealed that non-UIFSM parents were either concerned over quality of meals and what/how much their child ate, concerned only by what/how much their child ate or whether their child did not like the food provided. Two subsets of parents in the UIFSM group were either very positive about UIFSM or appeared to take meals because they were free. Schools used a variety of measures to increase and maintain UIFSM take up.


Parents like to have control over what their child eats at school and children need to enjoy their school meals. Using a range of interventions to target subsets of parents may help local authorities, schools and caterers to increase UIFSM take up.

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