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Free school meals programme helps fight food waste with innovative new scheme

The Welsh Government’s rollout of Universal Primary Free School Meals alongside the Curriculum for Wales has helped a school’s community develop healthy habits and help fight food waste. 

Llandeilo Primary School launched the ‘Bocs Bwyd Llandeilo’ scheme – a community project that involves collecting surplus food from local businesses and community donations, aiming to remove economic barriers for parents. 

The produce is used in school cooking lessons, eliminating the need for families to purchase ingredients, while helping cut down on food waste.

Lynne Williams who leads on the cookery initiative at the school, said: 

“Our aim within the kitchen and during our cookery sessions is to develop our pupils and our wider communities ‘Food Literacy’”.

“We provide the opportunities for pupils to plant, learn about, grow, harvest, and then cook the foods they grow. We also offer this produce for families to cook with as part of our Bocs Bwyd Llandeilo initiative.”

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In September 2022, Wales began the Universal Primary Free School Meals programme – part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru. Over 15m meals have already been served through the programme, which will be rolled out to all primary school children and more than 6,000 nursery aged pupils by the end of the 2024. 

Over the same period, all maintained primary schools began teaching the new Curriculum for Wales in their classrooms. This brought a shift in focus; encouraging learners to develop experiences and skills, as well as their knowledge. 

For Llandeilo Primary School, these shifts in day-to-day school life were welcomed as a huge opportunity for change. 

Recognising the value of a nutritious, healthy lunch at school, Llandeilo was keen to promote Universal Primary Free School Meals to their school community, especially those families who had previously been providing packed lunches – often at a significant hit to parents’ pockets. 

Karen Towns, Headteacher at Llandeilo, said that her team began a mission to promote free school meals – hosting talks with parents, sharing information about foods the children would be eating, and working to identify any barriers to uptake. 

She said: “Through developing Bocs Bwyd Llandeilo, our school allotment (Y Nyth) and school kitchen (Y Cegin), we have deeper understanding of and connections with our families within the school. 

“Families feel cared for and important, and appreciate their wellbeing and personal circumstances being supported.”

Many parents were initially concerned about the rollout of Universal Primary Free School Meals, citing food preferences, lunchtime noise and allergies as some of the barriers to claiming this new scheme. 

To address some of the initial concerns raised by parents, the school organised tasting sessions, and a ‘Nurture Base’ was established for children needing a quieter space during lunches. Meetings between school catering staff and parents were also facilitated to address menu concerns.

One Year 5 learner said: 

“I like the menus because then we know what is for dinner every day. We get all the different food groups and different things to fuel us.”

Alongside Bocs Bwyd Llandeilo, the school runs an on-site allotment where children can help grow and harvest vegetables to be used in cooking lessons. These take place across every year group, hosted in the school’s brand-new ‘Bake Off’ style kitchen. 

This relationship-building has helped increase the uptake of Universal Primary Free School Meals in the school. Improving access to free school meals meant building a genuine connection between the school and families.

Looking to the future, the school aims to continue supporting learners and their families, through both food education to establish healthy habits in its community and the uptake of Universal Primary Free School Meals. 

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