A WEST Dorset food business has welcomed plans to provide more free meals in schools.

The government announced pupils in reception and Years 1 and 2 are to be given free school meals.

Local Food Links, which provides meals for schoolchildren and pensioners, said the news showed the government was moving forward with its plan to improve school food.

Chief executive of the group Caroline Morgan said: “We are delighted every child will be guaranteed such a good start to their school career. It is good news for schools and good news for local suppliers.”

The pioneering Food Links project began over a decade ago by working with schools on healthy eating projects, and developed into a service providing meals for youngsters based on locally-produced food.

Their menus go for a seasonal approach, with salads in the summer and root vegetables in the winter, and themed events such as International Food Day.

The service now operates in 29 schools in Dorset, serving freshly-prepared hot meals to more than 1,250 pupils a day.

Benefits of good quality, hot school meals include not only healthy children, but improved school performance, the organisation said.

Caroline added: “Local Food Links has led the way to improve the quality of food in Dorset’s schools and understands the importance of giving children food which is both tasty and nutritious. Our business challenge remains to convince parents that a Local Food Links hot lunch is the healthiest option for their children.

“Only one per cent of packed lunches meet the nutritional standards that currently apply to school food.

“The implementation of the School Food Plan checklist will really support us and we are producing a poster of the checklist to go up in the school office and kitchen.”

The School Food Plan was produced from a national review of school food by the two founders of the Leon restaurant chain and the Department of Education.

It includes a ‘checklist for headteachers’ which sets out practical steps schools can take to improve the quality and take-up of its food.

For more information, visit www.localfoodlinks.org.uk.