THOUSANDS of youngsters in Bolton will get free school meals from September — with parents set to save £3.5 million.

The government says that free school dinners for children aged between four and seven will save individual families £400 per year.

It is thought that nearly 9,000 children in the area will now be eligible for free lunches — and the government says it will save parents in Bolton £3,578,400 a year.

Up until now, only children from low income families were entitled to free school meals. Now they will be free to all children in reception class, Year One and Year Two.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg 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.”

In Bolton, thanks to a local authority initiative, nursery and junior pupils will benefit from the £1.25 discount, making lunches for other children in primary school cheapest in the country.

Bolton Council introduced its school meals promotions in 2009, and this has led to more than 2,700 additional pupils tucking in to a school meal each school day — with 65 per cent of children in the borough having a school dinner compared to 50 per cent of youngsters nationally.

The government says its policy will also help to reduce childhood obesity, which in Bolton currently stands at 21.2 per — just over one in five children being classed as obese as they prepare to leave primary school.