A total of 340 Mid Ulster school children are missing out on free school meals that they are entitled to.
Last year 2,044 local children were entitled to free dinners in the local council area, but 17 per cent did not avail of the service.
Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “A school meal contributes to a child’s healthy balanced diet, their growth and development, their educational performance and their long-term health and well-being.
“However, too many families are not accessing the free school meals they are entitled to.”
Mr O’Dowd has urged working parents and guardians to check eligibility criteria with the Education Authority, and if they find they are entitled, to take the offer up.
He added: “My Department is committed to raising standards in education and closing the achievement gap for young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds, and a healthy and nutritious school meal can make a significant contribution in helping deliver this.
“A child who is hungry may have difficulty concentrating in the class and therefore be more likely to fall behind their peers if the issue is not addressed.”
Mid Ulster SDLP Councillor Sharon McAleer said there were many reasons why families don’t sign up for free school meals.
“It is important that this issue is addressed and that the uptake of free meals is increased to benefit children”, said the local representative.
“Parents and guardians should contact their local Education Authority who provide a service of supplying eligible pupils in full-time education with Free School Meals and School Uniform Allowances.
“I encourage all families that are entitled to free school meals to use this entitlement.”