Out to lunch'with Bath and North East Somerset Council

Project context

In recent decades, families' views of school meals and the free school meal offer has often been negative, a result of their own personal experiences. However, with the mandatory School Food Trust guidelines, school meals have changed considerably, with recipes containing more fresh ingredients. Children's intake of nutrients and vitamins is also monitored.

Schools also work hard to ensure that those children eligible for free school meals are not singled out or publicly identified in the dining hall. The ‘Out to lunch' initiative hopes to raise the profile of hot school meals while further reducing the stigma of claiming free meals.

Overview of the project

The main aim of the project is:

“to establish whether introducing hot school meals to children attending their Early Years setting has an impact on school meal uptake when they start their Reception Year in September.”

‘Out to lunch' is an initiative that invites Early Years (EY) settings to link with their local primary school. This aims to strengthen children's transition to school and encourage the take-up of school meals when they start in September. It also provides an opportunity for physical activity as children walk to the school for their visits.

The partners of this initiative are Healthy Early Years (HEY) and Healthy Schools and Catering Services. They are keen to see whether introducing hot school meals, encouraging familiarity with menu choices and the whole dining experience, enhances school meal uptake.

The ‘Out to lunch' initiative was promoted to all EY settings by letter and e-bulletin, asking them to register their interest. On doing so, the nearest primary school was contacted to establish a contact link between the school and setting. They were then asked to organise the visits themselves and complete a checklist. This was to determine the start date and timing for the scheme, the location and facilities available, arrangements for collecting money and supervision.

The theory of change (what should happen)

There is plenty of research showing that children who eat a hot school meal have better health and achievement more. There is reinforcing evidence that hot school meals are healthier than packed lunches. Healthy eating habits are set in children's most formative years. Encouraging hot school meal uptake is now more vital than ever with 25 per cent of the county's Reception age children overweight or obese.

‘Out to lunch' will contribute to the overall Healthy Early Years (HEY) aims by:

- contributing to a reduction in the levels of overweight and obesity in Reception Year in Bath and North East Somerset.
- removing the barriers to healthy living and promoting health in EY settings
- delivering a structured programme which ensures consistent approaches to promoting health and identifying opportunities for healthy behaviour in EY settings.

What will success look like?

Positive promotion of hot school meals to all parents and carers to increase school meal uptake from Reception Year.

- An understanding of the reasons why parents and carers choose or do not choose hot school meals for their children.
- Stronger transitions, supporting children in feeling more familiar and confident in both the school and dining environment.
- Stronger partnerships between EY settings and schools.
- Positive promotion of free school meals.
- More physical activity walking to and from school.
- More involvement of parents in local activities or interventions aimed at improving children's diet and activity levels - linked to HEY.
- Improvements at a wider level in families in relation to eating behaviour, physical activity and emotional wellbeing in both the child and their family - linked to HEY.

Measuring the difference

While the aims of this project are broad, the evaluation has been restricted for practical purposes to two main objectives. They are to:

  • establish whether parents carers are more likely to opt for hot school meals as a result of their child taking part in the ‘Out to lunch' initiative.
  • increase the uptake of hot school meals by Reception Year children.
  • The EY settings provided an evaluation form showing how many children took part in the initiative and how many visits each child made.

Qualitative and quantitative data was then captured from parents and carers of the children that took part using a feedback form. This was distributed to them at the end of the summer term in August. They were asked:

  • how their child found the visits
  • whether they will be having hot school meals when they start in September
  • if so, how many times per week: if not, what were their reasons
  • whether the ‘Out to lunch' initiative influenced their choice in this.

All the participating schools will be providing quantitative data through a monitoring form that captures hot school meal uptake of all children in Reception. This includes a particular interest in our ‘Out to lunch' children during a three-term period, starting in September 2010. These monitoring forms will be collated in February 2011 and will show us how many of the children did go on to eat a hot school meal and how often.

The schools are also being asked to comment on the impact of the initiative on children's transition into school.


The challenges for the evaluation have included:

  • - negotiating who would collate the various evaluations required and ensuring these are sent in on time.
  • - the low number of parent and carer feedback forms
  • - the differing length of ‘Out to lunch' initiatives across the settings and the differing number of times each child visited school means it is hard to measure like-for-like


Six EY settings took part in the initiative with a total of 81 children visiting local schools for a hot school meal. The number and duration of visits per child was recorded.

Out of the 81 children taking part, 28 parent and carer feedback forms were returned. Of these:

  • 25 per cent reported that they would be opting for their child to have hot school meals from September as a direct result of the ‘Out to lunch' initiative.
  • 32.1 per cent reported that they were already planning for their child to have hot school meals from September regardless of the ‘Out to lunch' initiative.
  • 10.7 per cent reported that their child would be having a hot school meal but did not comment on whether or not ‘Out to lunch' had influenced this in any way.
  • 32.1 per cent reported that their child would not be having a hot school meal.

From the qualitative data collected we can see further what influences parents and or carers in making their choice of hot school meals for their children.
The quantitative data from schools will show whether or not the remaining 53 ‘Out to lunch' children went on to eat hot school meals but would not give us any indication as to parent and carers motivation for this or the influence of the initiative.

Personal learning

“Being part of the Measuring Impact Action Learning Set (ALS) while working on this initiative has been really valuable for sharing ideas and reinforcing my current knowledge of evaluation methods. It has helped me gather additional methods of collating data and how to best measure the impact the project has had.
“I have been able to unpick the specifics of what I wanted to find out, ensuring I only ask what I need to and make the data work as efficiently as possible. All too often, projects are planned and evaluations are put together afterwards.
“As a result, I feel I am more confident in designing and delivering a good quality evaluation and impact assessment project from the start. I hope to use this experience to better my next project delivery, particularly as now, more than ever, it is necessary to show impact of all the work.”


Email: [email protected]