As long as it’s free, we’ll throw it away

Filed in Blog by on May 18, 2011 12 Comments
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Food waste in schools

Food waste in schools

As you know, I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ about food waste.

It’s one of my major bugbears. For starters, once you realise how much energy goes into producing food it seems a crime to throw it away. Secondly, it’s such an easy thing to put right, so why not stop wasting food? Third, when millions of people across the world (including many in our own cities, towns and villages) are starving how can we, with any conscience, continue to be so wasteful?

Imagine my horror then when I picked up a story in the Express about a cunning way for schools to boost their funding. As you may be aware, parents who earn less than £16,190 can apply for free school meals. This is great because a good meal at lunch time helps to aid concentration for the rest of the day.

The Government is cutting public spending so funding will now be based on the number of low-income pupils on school rolls; the main measurement of which is the number who are entitled to free meals. For every child who qualifies and applies for free school meals, the school itself can bag £430, so according to the article Headteachers are ‘urging parents who earn less than £16190 to apply for free school meals, even if they do not eat them.’

The article continues with ‘schools trying to make sure of the extra cash are telling low-paid parents who send their children to school with packed lunches to sign up for the free school meals anyway. They say it does not matter if the pupils do not take up the offer, so long as they are on the free meal register.’

Mandy Allwright, business manager of West Park First and Middle School in West Sussex told parent in a letter: …It is vital to us to be aware of who is entitled as this information generates more income for West Park.l It does not mean that your child has to have a free meal. They are welcome to bring their own if they prefer.’

As you might guess, my concern is What happens to all the free school meals that are not eaten! I’ll assume they are not handed out to homeless shelters. I guess some of them will be composted at best, but isn’t our planet and the hungry mouths of starving children across the world worth more than a paltry £430 a year?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (12)

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  1. Hazel says:

    I guess it would depend on how big the school is/how they run their kitchen. We had a similar email from DD1’s (secondary) school, without the ‘you don’t have to eat it’ part, but they run a cafeteria service, so don’t have a ‘dinner register’ like they do at DD2 and DS’s primary school.

    There are about 200 pupils on the school roll at their school, and a register is taken in the morning (at the same time as the attendance register) to see how many school dinners the cook needs to make. She won’t automatically make meals for those entitled, unless they’ve said ‘yes’ on the register.

  2. Kelly says:

    Of course back in the day pig farmers would come round for leftovers from schools but now thgats not allowed 😛
    I have a real bone with the school lunch system anyway. We DO qualify for free school meals and were promised dairy free meals. I even said I would let the kids have fish (we’re veggie) to make things easier. Of course NOW I know how much these meals are ready made and that they were just happy for me to have 3 kids on the school meal register while stringing me along for a year.
    Months of promising to get a menu out to me while I had no idea what they were eating that day (making mela planning at home impossible), they all had every cold going that year because they ate such gems as spagetti hoops plain pasta and baked potato for lunch more days than I care to remember. All they got was the “leftovers” it seemed >:(
    Anyway now I have them on packed lunch, which is hard to afford on our imcome, but at least I know what they are getting and any leftovers can be sorted out at home, between re-using, dogs and hens before the final solution of compost 🙂

  3. LJayne says:

    We have the same system as Hazel describes and it works really well. So I’m guessing that the free meals children who still eat from home are just numbers on a funding application. Our school’s capital section of the budget has been cut from 30,000 last year to only 7,000 this so I do support any attempt to boost the budget.

  4. Hazel says:

    @Kelly: We had dreadful school meals when DD1 started primary school. A few parents kicked up a fuss (nicely!) and called meetings with the company supplying the meals and the headteacher, who was supportive if not particularly proactive.

    They let parents come in for tastings and to see lunchtimes. That immediately got rid of those dreadful plastic airline trays- we all said we wouldn’t want to eat off of them- and we got proper plates instead. We also said the sausages were disgusting and tasted salty. We got the spiel about maximum sodium levels, but we pointed out we were talking about what the food tasted like as much as chemical composition. The sausages improved.

    We got called trouble makers (by the company, not the school, especially not the cook who was desperate to do proper cooking instead of reheating stuff) and we threatened to approach local pubs to do it ourselves when told we would never be able to do more than reheat things because of the size of the kitchen, and miraculously the children now have freshly prepared vegetables and homemade shepherds pie etc. The only thing I couldn’t get them to change was the meat, which I’m cross about (ie, it’s not local or free range), but we changed everything else.

    It coincided with the first Jamie Oliver school meals programme and I think they were secretly concerned we’d get them adverse publicity. School dinner attendance went from a handful of children (single figures- mostly those entitled to free meals) to 60 (maximum capacity of the hall) for roast dinner days!

  5. Jenny Deramo says:

    At my daughter’s school, they ask everyone to apply as well. But at the beginning of each day they count the number of children who will be eating school lunches (didn’t bring their lunch) and that’s the number of lunches that are made. So there’s actually no food going to waste because more children qualified for the program.

  6. Melanie says:

    I am a school governor AND a supporter of your fantastic cause. However, £430 per child is NOT a paltry amount and cannot be sniffed at, particularly at this time when school funding has been cut significantly and budgets are managed so tightly that a few additional free school meal places actually make the difference (say) to children from low income families going on school trips or not, or having enough money to replace a computer, buy new books etc etc. This is a “new” scheme but it is not additional money, when the funding streams that have been stopped are taken in to account, and particularly in areas of social deprivation.

    Our school, prepares meals in it’s own kitchen and I do not believe that they use the free school meals numbers as a guide, in any case there are certainly more children taking school meals than there are pupils on the register. Waste may well be an issue, I haven’t checked it out to be honest, but not as a result of ensuring that all the pupils who can are recorded.

  7. Julie Day says:

    I thought schools these days had small budgets, they can’t afford author visits, but if they waste food like that then they must have money to burn. I would like to suggest to them to offer those meals not taken up by parents to homeless people. In this economic climate I thought parents would love to take up anything that is free. What a waste.

  8. Alyson says:

    Funny that. Has something changed because we have less than 16,000 a year but we’re not entitled to free school meals as my husband gets working tax credits. But I do know that my school counts, every morning, who is having a dinner, so I’m guessing that stops some wastage

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Hazel: Good to hear there is a scheme in place for number of meals needed. I think with schools that bring meals in from an outside caterer it’s a different story…ANd well done for kicking up a fuss about the quality of meals; it sounds like you had a huge victory.

    @Kelly: What a brilliant thought of the pig farmers! Maybe I should be a pig farmer 😀 I hear you on the school meals thing; I stopped DD having them because she was ill and hungry – when I heard what she was given I cried.

    @LJayne: Wow, that’s a huge cut; thanks for sharing that – it helps me to put things in perspective.

    @Jenny Deramo: really pleased to hear this scheme is in place to stop food wastage – thanks for sharing.

    @Melanie: Hi Melanie, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. You’ve helped me to understand some of the issues schools are facing with the recent cuts in budget.

    @Julie Day: brilliant ideas of offering leftover meals to the homeless or even the parents; thanks Julie.

    @Alyson: Good to hear there is little wastage in your school Alyson; it might be worth checking the figures I gave – it was from the Express after all 😉

  10. April says:

    I have just begun my zero waste journey. Earth Day really impacted me this year i suppose. It is so nice to see that the Zero waste movement is spreading. I love it! I have started blogging about it i feel so strongly about zero waste.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @April: Hi April, welcome to the site. Great to see you have started your own blog to spread the word about zero waste. Good luck with your mission!

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