Thousands of primary school pupils have been given free school meals for the first time this week - in a new scheme costing the county council nearly £3 million.

Schools now have a legal duty to offer the meals to pupils in reception, year one and two - in a move expected to save families £400 per year per child.

All of the county’s 367 state schools had plans in place to be ready to serve meals for the new school year - with £4 million worth of equipment installed over the summer holidays including a £17,000 serving hatch at Redbourn Primary. 

Hertfordshire County Council has spent £2.6million on the scheme, on top of an initial grant of £2.9m from the Department for Education, which has allocated £2.30 for each school meal.

An additional 180 staff were recruited for the new service by Hertfordshire Catering Limited, which serves 96 percent of school meals in the county. They will be providing up to 30 different menus on any given day based on a variety of dietary requirements.

Pupils can expect salt-free dishes ranging from a roast dinner, to a mild curry or crispy crumb salmon. 

The new policy introduced by the Liberal Democrats does not ban packed lunches, but the aim is that having the hot, free option, will boost the numbers of pupils having school dinners.

The council said they were expecting to at least 87 percent of those eligible to take up the offer of free school dinners, an increase from 50 percent the previous year. 

Many schools have supported the scheme by increasing lunch breaks and allowing additional service points. Schools that do not have their own kitchen facilities have meal delivered hot in special containers which are then transferred into heated units.

Roundwood Park School is one of three in the county that did not have any form of meal service when the duty was announced, and they have opted for a cold meal delivery this year.

According to the Children’s Society, the landmark move will mean older children from poorer backgrounds will continue to miss out.

Chief executive of The Children’s Society Matthew Reed said: "The extension of free school meals to all infants is a positive step forward in the fight against child poverty, and shows that the government recognises the hardship that thousands of families are facing.

"But for poor youngsters older than seven, nothing has changed. That’s why it is vital that ministers build on this to make sure that every child in poverty is guaranteed a free school meal, whatever their age."

Previously, free school meals were available to children whose parents are on benefits or earn less than £16,190 a year.

The details of where the money to fund the lunches is coming from will be given in Chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement.