FoodCycle, the national charity aiming to make food poverty a thing of the past, have just unveils its schools pilot promising to deliver nutrient-packed free meals in a positive environment to families.

Launched this month at Ark John Archer Primary Academy and Ark Globe Academy in London, FoodCycle’s School Community Meal Pilot is the first time the15-year-old charity has taken their community meals model into a school environment. As well as continuing to expand on its existing 84 free meals offered across England and Wales every week, the food charity plans to ‘spread the FoodCycle magic’ to an additional two schools by the end of the year - with more school partnerships planned for 2025.

FoodCycle CEO, Sophie Tebbetts says: “Having seen the need for families across the UK to access nourishing meals increasing, we decided to take our 15 years of experience and bring it into a school setting.

“FoodCycle meals help build stronger connections through the sharing of food and conversations; but we also plan to offer support by educating students and parents in nutrition, healthy eating habits, sustainability, and social skills. Our first pilot school meals launched at Ark Schools in May to rave reviews; and we’ll build on that success to reach more families by the end of 2025.”

According to Veg Power, 89% of children in the UK don’t eat enough vegetables; while the New Economic Foundation says that 4.3 million children in the UK are growing up in poverty. Recent data from The Food Foundation (2024) showed that 60% of food insecure households are buying less fruit than they do usually; 44% also said they were buying fewer vegetables than normal. A UK Government Report Child food insecurity and Free School Meals (July 2023) says that ‘food insecurity increases mental and physical health risks (including dental decay and obesity) and affects educational and lifetime attainment’.

The same study explained that many UK households ‘in the lowest income bracket’ would need to spend 50% of their disposable income to afford a healthy diet’ which is why ‘food insecure households are more like to buy cheaper, unhealthy foods. FoodCycle’s School Community Meal Pilot aims to help plug the gap for families affected by food insecurity; as well as reduce isolation and create a stronger connection between schools and their community.

Working with local suppliers to source surplus food rich in nutrients, a team of local FoodCycle volunteers will create an after-school meal once a week drawing on 15-years of experience. As well as ending up with well-fed families, the hope is to empower students with knowledge about healthy eating habits and sustainable eating practices that stay with them long into their future.

Ark’s schools are at the forefront of the cost-of-living crisis. Many of them are stepping in to provide crisis support for the students and communities they serve, despite working with already stretched budgets. Thanks to philanthropic funding, we have been able to run this pilot at no cost to the Ark schools.

On their first visit, a parent attending the FoodCycle meal from Ark Globe Academy said: “This was a great idea, I managed to spend more time with my daughter instead of cooking at home.” Jo Watts, Vice Principal at Ark said: “Providing vegetarian community meals for our parents allows them to come together, spend quality time, and build meaningful relationships.

“It's a way for them to enjoy a healthy, balanced meal free of charge while fostering a sense of community and connection in a warm and welcoming environment.” Celebrating its 15th birthday this year, FoodCycle has been nourishing communities with food and conversation since 2009.

The national charity currently operates 84 community meals across England and Wales bringing together thousands of volunteers every week to transform surplus food into healthy, delicious meals for anyone that would like them, no questions asked. By the end of 2024, the food charity will have dished up 3.5 million community meals – with 500,000 free meals already served since January this year.