More steps are needed to ensure that children from low-income families do not become hungry over the holidays, according to a report.
The Poverty and Inequalities Commission calls for the introduction of cash benefit across Scotland.
Many councils now run plans to give free school meals during school holidays. However, the provision varies from area to area.
Anti-poverty campaigners have long been worried that free school meals are, in fact, a benefit that is available only for part of the year.
They have warned that some children may be hungry during school holidays – or some parents may go without their children being fed well.
The Scottish government asked the commission to look at how poverty can be tackled. However, he is independent of the government.
Their report offers payment of benefit during school holidays which would, at least, be equivalent to the cost of school meals.
The argument is that benefit would help to achieve greater consistency across Scotland and ensure that those who do not wish to participate in the current plans are missing out.
The Chair of the Commission, Poverty and Inequality, Douglas Hamilton said: "School holidays form a quarter of the year, so it is not surprising that they can create significant pressure for the poorest families of Scotland in terms of finance, food, opportunities for play , social isolation and parenting.
"Vacations bring extra costs and challenges to families who are already in difficult pressures, especially over the summer break of six weeks and during Christmas."
Free school meals are considered an essential benefit for the rest of the year but are taken back during school holidays at a time when families face the greatest financial pressures.
Many councils – often in the areas where the greatest concern about the impact of child poverty – have now had "holiday sun" schemes like this.
Some provide meals at events and activities for school pupils during the holidays.
These are paid by the councils themselves.
Lancashire North Council has recently become the first in the UK to start offering free meals for eligible children 365 days a year.
Members of the commission visited many of these schemes this year to find out more.
The report argues that there is a need for greater cohesion and consistency across Scotland.
- The Scottish government, the Cosla council body and individual local authorities should work together to take a strategic approach to the development and funding of a co-ordinated package of school holiday support
- Construction of existing services and holiday club provision to ensure that "appropriate nutritional and cultural food" is available to all children from low income families
Their report says: "The Scottish government should also look to introduce additional money benefits during holiday periods to those who are eligible for the school clothing grant.
"Existing mechanisms, such as a school clothing grant, should be considered a way of achieving this.
"Financial transfers can be particularly important for families with older children who are not eligible, or who do not want, to attend many of the holiday programs available. The amount should be set at a level which coincides with at least equivalent school lunch costs and consideration should be given to how much payments should be and when they should be provided. "
The report does not specify the general cost of benefit of that type and the exact level that should be placed on it.
Demand on the government to identify someone to participate in co-ordinating policy regarding school holidays.
It also encourages local authorities to take responsibility for co-ordinating strategic actions during school holidays in their area, and special holiday club provision.
A local government organization, Cosla, is in discussions with the Scottish government on how they can work together to help those on low incomes during the holidays and outside school hours.
Cllr Stephen McCabe, Children and Young People's Cosmetic spokesman said: "In general, local authorities are working closely with their partners to tackle child poverty. Their work is often is bold and innovative and there is an increasing understanding of what works.
"There is increasing support for those on the lowest income with more local authorities involved in the cost of school day initiatives.
"We know from our own data that the vast majority of local authorities provide some kind of out of school provision for children and young people experiencing poverty."
He added: "Although food is part of this, it also focuses on parental activities and support and participation. This is primarily the work funded by local authorities at a time when there is a significant budget pressure on services essential. "
Weight on families
Charities that work in the field have stressed the need for urgent action.
Director of the Child Poverty Action Group, John Dickie, said: "We know of the fact that families face a variety of pressures and additional costs during school holidays around food, childcare and access to activities festivals and rewards The result is that for many children and Parents' holidays are a time of extra stress, rather than fun new opportunities.
"The basic driver of those additional pressures is a lack of adequate income, so it is right that a family boost must be further promoted to focus on any way of supporting families during school holidays, alongside a joined up approach to reduce the costs of childcare and holiday activities.
"We welcome the great Scottish government's current commitment to an income supplement, but families can not wait until 2022 and just welcome new ideas on promoting financial support for families now."
A Scottish government spokesman said: "We thank the Commission for its detailed report and will give careful consideration to its findings.
"The UK government's welfare cuts have a detrimental effect on many families and we are investing over £ 125m this year to mitigate these effects and protect those on low incomes.
"Our Fair Food Fund also promotes dignity solutions to food uncertainty, and we are already committed to increasing this to £ 3.5m next year – £ 2m of them will focus on school holidays.
"In addition, local authorities also have the flexibility to provide children's meals during term time and they chose to use this flexibility during school holidays by providing holiday luncheon clubs."
There are previous examples of government and councils in Scotland working with each other to try and support low-income families.
Recently, the lowest level of school clothing grants has been standardized to help achieve greater consistency across the country although councils are free to offer additional help if they want to do so.