Parents of school children in the Western Isles are being reminded that school meals are FREE to children in Primary 1 to 3.

Despite this, many parents are sending their children to school with packed lunches.

It is estimated that by taking up the free school meals, they could make savings of £370 each year, per child.

Louise Laing, Operations Manager at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “While we have had a really good uptake in some schools, there are other schools where we would expect a better uptake.

“We really want to get the message across that the entitlement is there.”

Some schools’ uptake is as high as 90 per cent, but in others, that figure drops to 70 per cent.

It is these schools that Louise is targeting.

“Every P1-3 child is entitled to a free school meal without parents doing any paperwork or applying for anything,” she said.

“We know that there are some children who are particularly selective about what they eat, and also some parents may want to ensure that they give them a packed lunch so they know what they have eaten.

“But all our schools have a variety of menus, they all have at least two options which are nutritionally balanced, so if the child doesn’t like one main course there is always an alternative on offer, and there is always a choice of healthy desserts.”

If a packed lunch cost £1.95, then multiplying that price by 190 school days equates to £370 over one year.

“If you have more than one child that adds up to a lot of money,” said Louise.

School canteens can accommodate allergies such as gluten and lactose, where specific foods are brought in and cooked specifically to affected children’s requirements.

“We work with parents to make sure the menus are suitable for their children,” said Louise.

Research conducted in mainland schools has shown that some of the children who would benefit most from the scheme are not taking up the offer of the free meals.

It’s a scenario Louise doesn’t want occurring here in the islands.

“We would love to have a 100 per cent uptake. That is the ideal situation,” she said.

“We don’t want parents to miss out on this because they don’t know about it, or they don’t know how the system works.

“At the end of the day, why would you send your child to school with a packed lunch when there is a free hot meal available?”