From September, parents of primary school pupils in St Helens could save a combined £1.8m a year on school lunches.
More than 4,700 local youngsters aged between four and seven are now eligible for free school lunches - many from families who have previously spent up to £400 a year on homemade packed lunches.
While free school meals are means tested for all children from year three onwards, they are now available to all children in reception, year one and year two.
Government’s standards for school meals mean that parents can also feel secure in the knowledge that their children will receive a healthy, nutritious lunch – something which studies have shown contributes to improved concentration and learning in the classroom.
Evidence also shows that only around one per cent of homemade lunches meet these standards.
It is hoped the changes will also help cut the levels of childhood obesity.
Earlier this month the Reporter revealed that children in St Helens as young as four are to be offered places on new healthy eating classes following a worrying rise in childhood obesity.
More than one in five local youngsters are now classed as obese by the time they reach year six.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is spearheading the new initiative, said: “Free school meals for infants will not only save families hundreds of pounds a year but will also have an impact on how a child performs in the classroom so that, regardless of their background, every child can have the best possible start in life.
“Pupils at the pilot schools who were all given free meals were found to be up to two months ahead of their peers elsewhere.
“This is one of the most progressive changes to our school system for a long time. My goal is to create a level playing field for all of our children so their success will be determined by their talents and efforts alone and not by their parents’ bank balance.”
The new policy is just one aspect of the work that the Government is doing to improve the provision of meals in schools and transform what children eat in schools and how they learn about food.