Local councils need to rethink their approach to offering free school meals, as too often children would rather go without than accept what they see as the "stigma" of free food, according to the Liberal Democrats.
A survey by the party has found that, of all local education authorities who felt that school meal take up could be improved, nearly three quarters cited stigma as the biggest barrier to take-up.
Of this group 84% still used tick lists in their canteens to identify children who were eligible for free school meals.
This, said the party, demonstrated a clear link between stigma and method of delivery.
Phil Willis, Liberal Democrat shadow education secretary, said: "With childhood obesity rising, wholesome and nutritious school meals are a great opportunity to get our children's daily diet back on track.
"At present hundreds of thousands of our poorest children are missing out on that chance."
Schools and LEAs with low take-up rates needed to rethink the link between their method of delivering free school meals and the stigma attached to it, he added.
"All children want to feel that they ‘fit in'. When children are singled out for receiving free meals many will choose to go without lunch rather than risk looking ‘different'," he said.
by Nic Paton
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