NEARLY 11,000 primary schoolchildren in Croydon will start to get free school meals from this week.
All youngsters aged four to seven are now eligible for free meals under the nationwide Government initiative.
And the Government is saying that, in Croydon alone, parents will be saving a total of £4.4 million on school lunches.
Free meals for children from Year 3 onwards will continue to be means tested.
The Government has said studies show receiving a healthy nutritious lunch helps improve pupils' concentration and learning in the classroom.
It also claims the policy will help towards reducing childhood obesity.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is spearheading the 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."
The initiative has been welcomed by Councillor Alisa Flemming, Croydon Council's cabinet member for children, families and learning.
She said: "We have a huge number of children who will benefit. The school dinner will often be their only hot meal of the day, and we have seen from results that children who receive free meals have done really well."
She said the long-term aim of the council was to see free school meals offered to all the borough's primary pupils.
In addition, it is about the launch a pilot project in a small number of primary schools offering free breakfasts to pupils.
Cllr Flemming said the pilot was the first stage in meeting a Labour manifesto pledge made before May's elections.
Cllr Flemming added: "We have not yet decided in which schools the pilot will take place but our aim is to have it in place by the end of this year.
"The scheme will enable pupils, who often don't eat breakfast, to come into school and have something. I think we will see the long term effects on their performance."