Parents across the region could save millions with a new initiative to provide free school meals starting in just over two weeks, according to the Department of Education.
The Government said it is helping parents in the North East save up to £26.6m on primary school lunches by introducing the initiative.
About 66,505 children aged between four and seven in the region are now eligible for free school lunches.
The education department claims many parents who have previously spent up to £400 a year on packed lunches will reap the financial savings.
While free school meals are means tested for all children from year 3 onwards, they are now available to all children in reception, year 1 and year 2.
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 changes will also help towards reducing childhood obesity. Currently around 20% of children in the North East are already ‘obese’ by the time they leave primary school.
In Newcastle the number of reception age children who are overweight or obese is down 11.7% year-on-year, with a 9% fall in Gateshead and 7.9% in County Durham. However in North Tyneside the figure has risen by almost 9%.
The Government kicked off the campaign in a bid to make meals more healthy and nutritious, following studies showing this contributes to improved concentration and learning in the classroom.
These changes will also help towards reducing childhood obesity. Currently around 20% of children are already ‘obese’ by the time they leave primary school.
Cooking is also back on the curriculum next term.