Parents are set to save almost £500 with the further expansion of free school meals.
The addition of P5 pupils to the scheme in January will “relieve the stress” on families struggling with rising bills.
Children in P1-4 already benefit from free school meals, regardless of their family income.
Pupils in P4 were added to the scheme in August, and the further expansion to P5 pupils has been welcomed by parents, educationalists and children’s charities.
The move follows a commitment of £28m from the Scottish Government. It aims to expand free school meals to all primary pupils by 2025.
The cost of a year’s worth of school lunches ranges from £397 in the Western Isles to £494 in Orkney. This is based on a 190-day school year.
In Aberdeenshire, more than 3,000 P5 pupils will benefit from the move. Feeding the region’s 3,102 P5 pupils costs £7,755 a day.
Move welcomed but concern over costs
Councillors across the north and north-east welcomed the development, though some expressed concern over costs, as well as the impact on kitchen and dining space.
Sonya Warren, chairwoman of Moray Council’s children’s services committee, said: “The extension of free school meals to all children in P5 is indeed a very welcome development.
“At a time when the UK government is reducing Universal Credit by £20 per week to those who can least afford it, the provision of free school meals is ever more important.
“Many people are also facing huge increases in household and utility bills, putting huge pressure on parents and families. The provision of free school meals will help to relieve this stress.
“The importance of free school meals to thousands of children cannot be overstated. It ensures every child, regardless of their circumstances, has access to a healthy, nutritious meal every day.
“By doing so, it helps them engage in class activities and learning.”
Gillian Owen, chairwoman of Aberdeenshire Council’s education and children’s services committee, said children and families would benefit from the expansion.
However she warned that the council would need “significant funding going forward.”
‘Expansion will present challenges’
And John Finlayson, chairman of Highland Council’s education committee, said: “The expansion of free school meals is of course to be welcomed.
“However, this expansion will present challenges to the authority and to individual schools.
“Sufficient dining space, kitchen space and the possible effects on learning being interrupted will all need to be evaluated.
“This is particularly the case for schools which don’t have dedicated dining space and use school gym halls for lunches.”
He added: “Cost is of course a huge concern and I would expect the Scottish Government to be funding any expansion – as they did with Early Learning and Childcare (ELC) – and provide funding to authorities for this over and above the normal grant settlement.
“If not, this is another initiative that will need funded from an already diminishing pot. That will affect the delivery of other services.”
Removing the stigma ahead of tough winter
The charity Children 1st said the news comes at a welcome time for families, ahead of what could be a tough winter.
“Having enough to eat is a fundamental right and an essential need of every child,” said chief executive Mary Glasgow.
“It is unacceptable that a quarter of children in Scotland today live in relative poverty.
“With rising heating bills and the removal of the Universal Credit uplift, it will be even harder for these families to make ends meet. They will struggle to afford to keep their children fed and warm this winter.
“Children can’t learn when they are hungry or cold.”
She added: “While many of the measures that are so urgently needed to lift families out of poverty must be targeted to those who need it most, many children feel shame and embarrassment when receiving free school meals.
“Extending free school meals to all primary school pupils is therefore an important way to uphold children’s rights and remove the stigma associated with free school meals.”
Free school meals for all primary pupils
Meanwhile, a Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed all primary pupils will receive free school lunches by the end of this parliament.
She said: “We have already provided funding to support the expansion of free school lunches to primary 4 and 5 during this financial year.
“Ministers are committed to funding the expansion of free school meals to all pupils in primary and special schools during this parliament, as well as introducing free year-round breakfast and lunch provision to support children outside of the school term.
“We are also committed to piloting approaches to universal meal provision in secondary schools.”