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Free milk and healthy snacks at ELC

Drinking milk and snacking on fruit and vegetables is a great habit for your child to get into. The Scottish Milk and Health Snack Scheme ensures that children who spend two hours or more in a childcare setting registered to the Scheme, including with a regulated childminder, get free milk or a specified non-dairy alternative and a healthy snack every day they attend.

What is the Scottish Milk and Health Snack Scheme?

The Scottish Milk and Healthy Snack Scheme provides all pre-school children attending childcare settings that have registered for the Scheme with:

  • a free serving of milk (or a specified non-dairy alternative), or
  • first infant formula for children under 12 months where breast milk is not available, and
  • a portion of fruit or vegetables (for children over 6 months old).

The expanded Scottish scheme replaced the UK Nursery Milk Scheme in Scotland in August 2021. You can find out more about the Scheme on the website.

Is my child eligible for the Scheme?

Your child will get free milk or a specified non-dairy alternative and a healthy snack if:

  • they spend 2 hours or more in a childcare setting, including childminders, registered with the Care Inspectorate, and
  • they haven’t started school yet, and
  • the setting or childminder they go to has registered for the Scheme. 

Is this all they will get to eat and drink?

No, the free milk or specified non-dairy alternative and healthy snacks are just one part of the food your child will be offered during the day. You can see the guidance, called 'Setting the Table', for what should be provided to children in regulated childcare settings here. (Setting the Table is due to be refreshed by the end of 2023.)

Children attending settings for a session that includes funded early learning and childcare (ELC) hours can also receive a free meal each day as part of their ELC day. This could be a breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can find out more about who can get funded ELC hours here.

Why is it important for my child to get healthy snacks?

The eating habits children get into when they’re little can influence the way they eat later on in life and affect their longer-term health and wellbeing. The aim of the Scheme is to make sure that as many children as possible attending eligible childcare settings receive the benefits of milk or specified non-dairy alternatives and a healthy snack. This will help them get into the habit of drinking milk and snacking on fruit and vegetables from an early age. 

Trying different healthy foods is all part of your child’s learning experience when they’re at a nursery or with a childminder, so while they’re there they’ll be offered a range of things to try. The Scheme makes sure that milk (or a specified non-dairy alternative) and fruit and vegetables are one of the things they’re given every day. Fruit and vegetable portions offered as part of the Scheme will include a variety of different types, colours, flavours and textures. 

What’s included?

The Scheme funds a serving of milk or specified on dairy alternative (189mls (1/3 pint) and a healthy snack (a portion of fruit or vegetables) per child per day.

The Scheme includes:

  • plain fresh cow’s milk (for children over 12 months) or first infant formula (for children under 12 months for whom breast milk is not available); or
  • if your child can’t have cow’s milk for medical, ethical or religious reasons, they’ll be offered plain fresh goat or sheep milk; or
  • if they can’t have dairy for medical, ethical or religious reasons they will be offered a specified unsweetened calcium-enriched non-dairy alternative. This includes a non-soya alternative for children that can’t have soya; and
  • a healthy snack (a portion of fruit or vegetables) for children over 6 months old. For a 2-5 year old a portion is roughly what they can hold in their hand. 

What are the specified alternatives to milk?

Food Standards Scotland has advised that on the grounds of nutrition, plain cow’s milk should be offered to children under the Scheme in the first instance.

Settings should offer a specified alternative if your child can’t drink cow’s milk for medical, ethical or religious reasons. These include plain, fresh goat or sheep milk or an unsweetened, calcium enriched non-dairy alternative drink. The alternatives don’t include rice milk as this is not suitable for young children. If your child can’t drink milk or any of the alternatives, they’ll be offered water instead.

What if my provider is not registered for the Scheme? Or is not eligible?

All childcare providers who are registered with the Care Inspectorate are being encouraged to apply for the Scheme. You can ask your child’s nursery or childminder if they’ve applied to the Scheme, and encourage them to sign up if they’ve not.

What if my child is in childcare for more than 2 hours? Can they get this more than once?

The Scheme is intended to provide eligible children with one serving of milk and one healthy snack per day. If your child spends longer in childcare  at one or more settings, other food and drink will be provided in line with the guidance in Setting the Table

If your child attends more than one setting in the day, they’ll usually receive the milk and healthy snack servings at the first setting. But you can discuss these arrangements with the settings if this doesn’t suit. 

What other support is available to help me access healthy foods and milk?

Best Start Foods helps eligible pregnant women and families with children under the age of 3 to buy healthy foods and milk. The payments are loaded onto a prepaid card that works like a regular bank card.

You may be able to get Best Start Foods if you or your partner, or someone you're dependent on, are getting certain benefits.

If you're under 18, you can be eligible for Best Start Foods during pregnancy and up until your child turns 1, even if you're not receiving these benefits.

You may also be able to get Best Start Foods for your child even if you cannot get certain benefits because of your immigration status.

You can apply from as soon as you know you're pregnant, up until your child turns 3 years old.

For more information and to apply go to or call Social Security Scotland on 0800 182 2222.

Last updated: 26 Oct, 2023