The Superpowers of Free School Meals

As part of the Feed the Future campaign, The Food Foundation hosted a special event at Central Hall in Westminster to showcase the benefits of Free School Meals has on academic attainment levels, school food quality, food insecurity, obesity, behaviour, school attendance, and local economies. Here we recap what happened on the day.

Attendees arrived at 1pm for a 'school lunch' experience - allowing delegates to have an experience similar to that of a school child. Some were 'eligible’ for a Free School Meal, some will only be able to have some of the school lunch, and others will only be given a packed lunch.

Superpowers event lunch stunt

Chefs and Campaigner Tom Kerridge and Melissa Hemsley helped to serve lunch, while attendees had the chance to meet and speak to The Food Foundation’s Young Food Ambassadors and Free Made Me Ambassadors – professionals who benefited from Free School Meals as children.

Watch highlights of the event


Listen to our event podcast


Panel Discussion - Beyond Politics: Can School Food Cross Party Lines?

This cross-party panel discussed how Free School Meal expansion aligns with many of the most pressing political issues of today, be it health, prosperity, tackling inequalities and childhood obesity or levelling up, and conferred on what the political opportunities and barriers are to making school food a priority.

The session was chaired by Laura Sandys, founder of The Food Foundation. Panellists included Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham and the party’s education spokesperson, Sir Stephen Timms, Labour MP for East Ham and chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, and Lord Bethell, Conservative Peer and former Health Minister.

Beyond Politics: Can School Food Cross Party Lines?

Panel Discussion - The Superpowers of Free School Meals

This session explored how Free School Meals are beneficial to education, public health, local economies and social equity and was chaired by medical doctor and TV presenter Dr Xand van Tullekan.

Panellists included Dr Camila Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Nicholas Capstick, chief executive officer of White Horse Federation, Mark Davies, a director at ISS UK Food Service, and Adrian Carne, a non-executive director of Yeo Valley.

The Superpowers of Free School Meals

Youth campaigners Spoken Word Performance

Youth campaigners from The Food Foundation and Bite Back 2030 travelled from across the country to join forces and perform a powerful piece of spoken word. They presented the perspectives of six different people's experience of Free School Meals.

Youth campaigners Spoken Word Performance

Panel Discussion - A Vision for School Food 

This session explored the emerging vision and strategic priorities for a better school food system and was chaired by Leyla Kazim, journalist and presenter of the BBC Radio 4's The Food Programme.

The panellists included Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, Louise Atkinson, president of the National Education Union, and Professor Donald Bundy of the Global School Meals Coalition.

A Vision for School Food

The final words of the day were spoken by the youth campaigners who got up on stage and called on those with influence in the audience to do what was right and extend Free School Meals to the children who need them. They called on members of the audience to stand up for children and write to their MP. 


Spoken Word Poem

Written and performed by The Food Foundation and Bite Back 2030 youth campaigners


(Perspective of a school pupil)

Breakfast, the most important meal of the day
Putting my mind, my hunger at bay
Out of this state I no longer stay
I get to put on my armour, my helmet of health
No longer an empty feeling once felt
I’m lucky to receive the armour I get
But my friends who live on the outside
We often forget

My favourite part of the day is … lunch
Yeah I deal with some taunts
From peers whose armours they flaunt
But I don’t care
Because at least I receive my lunch
I receive food
I get something
I receive my shield of nutrition, chains of equality
I get food
Food which otherwise I could not afford
If not, my future would be hanging by a single cord

Oh great, it’s home-time, I get to leave 
I get to leave a place and I should begin to feel free
But I can’t
I’ve eaten all my food, I have no more armour left
At this point most people forget
The armour comes off, the mask comes on
Pretending to everyone, I know it’s wrong
But food, we have none
I feel like a stranger in my own home
But at least I get to eat tomorrow
It’s a new day

(Perspective of a school pupil)

Wake up with food on my mind,
This time of the day just fills me
Fills me with dread, anxiety 
The knowing of what’s to come… Or not to
Distractions in the morning,
My one true saviour 
I see my friends nothing but smiles and full bellies happy so I put on my mask
To the fact that I’m hungry and too scared to ask for help 
Help to take off my mask

The worst part of my day... lunch 
This is where I have to wear my mask most 
As a way of protection, protect the little boy that wants to eat,
So I can fill my massive appetite 
The want to not only want the change but be the change 
I want, no I need this to change - I can’t concentrate, sleep well
Let alone thrive 
I look around and see laughing, smiles, food 
Just a fragment of my dream 

Home-time, the single greatest moment greatest moment of my day
The rush of excitement, I’ve peaked on my roller coaster and it’s finally the drop 
Finally the feeling of euphoria 

(Perspective of a teacher) 

I see potential
I see potential, and I see so much
in my classroom of countless hungry children.
The ones that deserve so much more,
but are forgotten, forgotten by pathetic thresholds.

Frustration oozes from my every pore
as my brightest student falls asleep.
Drowning in hunger to even think past
the agony of their lunch’s empty treat.

Another one stares far into the window,
submerged in a dream when they’ll be remembered 
A dream of the day when they can look forward to
a full stomach and a fruitful lesson.

The potential's escaping, escaping like a flood 
that overpowers goodwill and determination.
Futures restricted in our government’s invisible prison
as I try to pick the lock with my desperate teaching.
It isn’t enough.
But it could be…

(Perspective of a school cook)

I joined the school
5 years ago,
Little Harrison
Was Year Seven.
I’d ask him how
His lessons went
While dishing up
Two meals.
I used to tease and
He would grin,
Puff up his chest
And say “She works all
Day and so do I.
School lunch helps
me and her”.
In Year Nine for Harrison,
The kitchen beamed
As he yelled “Mum’s got a new job!”
We gave him
Extra fruit that day,
We knew it’d
Make it home.
Harrison stopped
Talking then, not just a
“Moody teen”.
But 16 shouldn’t be
Hollow cheeks
And stolen rolls.
We’d look away
As he took two.
“One’s mum’s” he’d shrug
As he caught my eye,
Years not yet lived
Under his.
Except, that blind eye
Harrison is far from
Less chubby cheeks,
More hungry hands
More teary eyes as we lie;
“There’s nothing to be done”.
Here you just met Harrison.
I’ve met a million and one.
Scooping air onto empty trays,
Something must be done.

(Perspective of a parent)

As the Parent
I want to bring the world and put it at my child’s feet
Feet that deserve more;
More than the struggles of food poverty,
More than the storms of uncertainty.
My child has wings to spread;
Wings that deserve more.
More than the shackles of hungry stomachs
More than the restricting sky of despair
My child’s worth more than the world,
More than the galaxies, more than the universe.
My reality is I see my child struggling
Struggling to continuously fake their smiles
To continuously hide their true desires
No matter how hard I work,
It is never enough.
I believe it is teamwork,
But why does life still get tough?

(Perspective of a politician)

I am the politician
In an extremely high position
I am the hope
Holding tight onto the rope
Or am I?

Am I the dark scary nights
That take away the shining lights?

The start of the fires
The extinguisher of the desires?

Am I the projector of their dreams
Or am I the mic of their screams?

The achievement of power
Or is it lost within each hour?

With thanks to our partners

With thanks to our funders

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