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Chapter 20 School milk, meals and related facilities

This chapter explains the responsibilities of the Board of Governors in relation to the arrangements for the provision of meals in a grant-aided school.

In this chapter:

Role of the Board of Governors

The role of the Board of Governors is to ensure that appropriate arrangements operate for the provision of school meals and to promote and encourage healthy eating by pupils in schools.


20.1. The Education Authority (EA) is responsible for the provision of the school meals service in all grant-aided schools, with the exception of voluntary grammar schools and grant-maintained integrated schools, where the responsibility lies with the Trustees/Boards of Governors. Outside of the dining area, food and drink provided in school or brought to school, is a matter for the Board of Governors. In nursery, primary and special schools, dinners should be provided on every school day for day pupils who wish such provision. In post-primary schools meals should be available on every school day for day pupils who are entitled to a free meal. Schools may also provide meals to those pupils who do not meet these mandatory requirements.

20.2. The school meals service has an important role to play in the development of social skills and the formation of good eating habits in young children. This has positive effects in the longterm, including the benefits of a healthier population. Research indicates that children who eat a nutritional meal during the day, maintain higher levels of concentration and demonstrate increased learning. In addition, the type of food and drink consumed can impact on behavioural patterns.

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Milk and meals arrangements and nutritional standards

20.3. The service is provided in accordance with the 'Arrangements for the Provision of Milk, Meals and Related Facilities' drawn up by the Department of Education (DE).

Arrangements for the Provision of Milk, Meals and Related Facilities

20.4. In particular, providers must comply with the DE nutritional standards for school lunches, which aim to help pupils make healthy choices, by providing a range of healthy meals, to convey the meaning and importance of a healthy diet and to contribute to a reduction in the levels of child obesity. Standards have also been drawn up in relation to other food and drinks provided in schools (for example, breakfast clubs, tuck shops, vending machines etc) and DE expects schools to adhere to these standards. Due to a gap in existing legislation, the nutritional standards for other food and drinks in schools are not mandatory at present in the controlled and maintainted sectors where food and drink is provided by the school (rather than the EA). The Department is taking forward an amendment to existing legislation to address this gap and ensure that the "Nutritional Standards for Other Food and Drinks in Schools" apply equally to all food provided by grant-aided schools in the school setting.

20.5. The standards only apply during normal school hours and do not therefore apply to boarding pupils after the end of the school day. The standards do not apply to special oneoff functions, such as discos or club parties or fundraising events like school fairs or jumble sales. Neither do they cover food such as packed lunches brought from home by pupils, which is a matter for parents and schools to decide at local level. Packed lunches provided by the school must, however, comply with the standards.

20.6. Guidance in relation to the implementation of the nutritional standards is available in the following publications:

These can be downloaded from the Public Health Agency's (PHA) website.

20.7. In addition the PHA has developed 'School food: the essential guide' to support the School food: top marks programme, which is a school food initiative by the PHA, DE and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS). The guide aims to provide practical advice and case studies to support all teachers, pupils, health professionals, caterers and others, in promoting and implementing healthier eating and drinking in primary and post-primary schools.

School food: the essential guide

20.8. The arrangements also outline the categories of pupils who are entitled to free milk, in other words all pupils at special schools; pupils in nursery and primary schools who do not have access to school meals and individual nursery and primary school pupils where it is deemed necessary in the interests of their health. Subsidised milk is also available to nursery, primary and postprimary pupils under the EU School Milk Scheme, administered by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It is a matter for individual schools to decide if they wish to participate in the scheme.

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Types of service

20.9. Two main types of school meal service exist:

  • a traditional meal comprising a main course and dessert
  • a cash cafeteria service, where items are priced separately

Cash cafeterias tend to operate mainly in post primary schools.


20.10. The charge for any meal or refreshment provided should be sufficient to recover the full cost of production and is remitted in full where a pupil is entitled to free school meals.

Provision of premises and facilities

20.11. Where the EA is providing a meals service to a school not under its ownership, it is required to enter into a contract or agreement, either by way of lease or otherwise, with the Trustees of the school before undertaking any alterations, erection of buildings or any other work relating to the provision of facilities for the service.

20.12. Facilities must also be provided at schools for the consumption of food brought to the school by day pupils. The facilities should include accommodation, furniture and supervision to enable pupils to eat in reasonable conditions, but does not extend to providing light equipment, such as cutlery and crockery or to facilities for cooking or heating food. Where there is spare capacity in the school meals dining room, this should be the first choice of accommodation for packed lunch takers. In the absence of such, alternative arrangements using assembly halls or classrooms should be made. Consideration should also be given to introducing staggered lunch breaks where feasible.

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Free school meals

20.13. Free school meals are provided to ensure pupils of 'non-working' and low income families have access to a nutritionally balanced meal, suitable as the main meal of the day – see paragraph 1 of chapter 17 for further details.

Food in schools policy

20.14. The Department, in conjunction with DHSSPS, has also drawn up a Food in Schools policy, which sets out the overall aims and objectives of their policy in relation to food in schools and describes the range of strategies and plans that are being put in place to deliver improved nutrition for our school children. The Food in Schools policy is an overarching policy advocating a 'whole-school approach' to all food provided and consumed in schools and developing knowledge and skills in relation to healthy eating and lifestyles. The policy has elements that are mandatory for all schools such as the Nutritional Standards for School Lunches and elements which are stongly recommended but which ultimately schools have discretion to decide upon within their local context, in consultation with pupils, parents and others. The policy applies to all grant-aided schools and came into effect from 24 September 2013. All grant-aided schools must adopt a whole-school approach to food and nutrition and should aim to have a whole-school food policy in place by September 2014.

Healthy breaks for schools

20.15. The PHA has produced guidance on healthy breaks for school children, which is designed to assist primary schools to deliver a healthy break scheme. The resource pack - 'Healthy Breaks for Schools' - includes a poster, for the schools to display, and information leaflets for parents, to explain why healthy breaks are important, as well as suggestions for the types of foods and drinks that can be included in a healthy break. Copies of the resources can be downloaded from the PHA's website.

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The law

Primary legislation

Education and Libraries (NI) Order 1986 – Articles 58 and 59
(Provision of milk, meals and related facilities)

Subordinate legislation

The Education (School Development Plans) Regulations (NI) 2005
(Arrangements for the promotion of the health and wellbeing of staff and pupils)

The Education (School Development Plans) Regulations (NI) 2010
(came into operation on 24 January 2011)


DE Circular 2010/22 School Development Planning – Regulations and Guidance PDF 86 KB

Arrangements for the Provision of Milk, Meals and Related Facilities – ELBs/EA PDF 118 KB

Arrangements for the Provision of Milk, Meals and Related Facilities – Grant maintained Integrated Schools PDF 109 KB

Arrangements for the Provision of Milk, Meals and Related Facilities – Voluntary Grammar Schools

Healthy Food for Healthy Outcomes - Food in Schools Policy

DE Circular 2013/21 Healthy Food for Healthy Outcomes - Food in Schools Policy PDF 109 KB

Nutritional standards for school lunches: a guide for implementation

Nutritional standards for other food and drinks in schools: a guide for implementation

School Development Planning

School food: the essential guide

Are you packing a healthy lunch?

Healthy breaks for schools leaflet - English

Healthy breaks for schools leaflet - Irish

Healthy breaks for schools poster - English

Healthy breaks for schools poster - Irish

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