Published On: 25 September 2023Categories: Stories

Hungry students are eating up to five helpings of free freshly-cooked food at the East Devonport Primary School’s free lunch program.

Three days a week, 80 to 85 percent of the school population, around 180 pupils, queue quietly and excitedly for a nutritious hot lunch. Even teachers have ditched the home made fare for the hot school lunch, lining up with the students.

Principal Sharon Woodberry said the statewide School Lunch Pilot program, started last year, was a game changer in terms of impact on health and wellbeing.

“Attendance is up on the days when lunch is available, children are healthier and better behaved, their social skills are improved, and financial pressure is eased on families,” she said.

“Students would rather eat than play. That’s a big deal.

“We’re changing a generation and a whole community.”

East Devonport is one of 30 schools participating in the school lunch trial, the genius idea of Tasmania’s School Food Matters organisation.

Loaves and Fishes Tasmania makes and delivers thousands of meals and hundreds of kilograms of fresh ingredients each week for the pilot, administered by School Food Matters and funded by the State Government.

The East Devonport Primary School commercial kitchen makes meals from scratch two days a week, thanks to support from volunteers and TAFE students, heating meals from the Loaves and Fishes Devonport kitchen on the third.

Sharon Woodberry said she wanted the lunch pilot extended to five days a week, such is the profound impact of the lunch program.

The school already runs a daily school breakfast program, using ingredients supplied by Loaves and Fishes. The breakfast program also has the support of Loaves and Fishes’ sister organisation, Devonport Chaplaincy which provides chaplains and student mentors.

On the day I visit the lunch program, Year 6 students join TAFE students in serving pasta, curry and rice, bacon-loaded potatoes, beetroot and feta, vegetable mash and gravy, and buttered bread, followed by fruit and yoghurt.

Children who once turned up their noses at vegetables will now tuck into whatever is on the menu.

“They now look forward to vegetables,” Sharon said.

“They know what good food looks like and tastes like.

“And now there’s none of the behavioural problems we used to see after recess or lunch as a result of the huge low after the sugar rush.

Students in the lunch queue wait patiently and are well behaved. They sit at rows of long tables, chatting and laughing while they eat.

“It’s considered a high honour among the Year Six to be selected to serve lunch and help with the cleaning,” Sharon said.

“Those who are well behaved in class are selected to help. It’s a badge of honour.”

Organisers have been delighted with the local response to the program. Some of the comments include:

“A parent has told me that their child will not miss school now because they do not want to miss out on their hot lunch.”

“A grandparent has told me that it has made a huge difference in her ability to care for her grandkids being one less thing for her to manage as she is now raising them. The financial cost and shopping and baking for school have been alleviated.”

“Another parent is so grateful for the meals. It has also been a huge encouragement to get the kids to school. Kids are trying foods they would not eat before and have now found some new low cost meals to replicate at home. Her children always try to go back for seconds and they love the food. It has also made a difference in her family budget, and they are eating healthier.”

“Parents have requested the recipe for the cheesy mac as their kids will no longer eat the packaged stuff as it doesn’t taste as good as the school’s mac and cheese.”

By Paul O’Rourke


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