FIRST MINISTER Vaughan Gething has today (Thursday, May 16) visited a school in Gwent to celebrate the confirmation of over 20-million additional meals being served to primary pupils in Wales since 2022. 

The rollout of universal free meals to all primary pupils in Wales began in September 2022, and will see all primary school children and more than six thousand nursery-age pupils attending a maintained school will be eligible for free meals by September 2024.

But new figures now show 19 of Wales’ 22 local authorities are already reaching all eligible pupils – ahead of the September target.

£260m of Welsh Government funding was committed to implement universal free school meals, which included £60m of capital funding to support improvements to school kitchen facilities, including purchasing equipment and updating digital systems.

South Wales Argus: The First Minister got stuck in, helping to prepare the food for lunchThe First Minister got stuck in, helping to prepare the food for lunch (Image: NQ)

During a visit to Ringland Primary School in Newport on Thursday, where he helped kitchen staff prepare the meals, he said: "Within my government we take very seriously the importance of nutritious food this landmark is a reflection of that, and has been transformative for people during these tough times.

"The children's commission's report was a snapshot, and we found that speaking to some children we discovered that their thoughts didn't match up with the report. 

“Within my priorities for government, I am committed to making sure we do everything we can to see young people grow up feeling happy and hopeful for the future.

"I'm really proud that we've hit this landmark of 20 million free school meals, it is hugely important that a healthy nutritious meal is provided to every child in the middle of the day to make sure they can carry on learning throughout the day. 

“At the heart of our mission is to lift children out of poverty, especially when the cost-of-living crisis has put extraordinary pressure on families across Wales.

“No child should go hungry, and thanks to the hard work of our local authorities and our schools – more and more children are being provided with a free nutritional school dinner to help ensure they can concentrate on learning.

"We know  that children who are hungry don't learn as effectively, so as both leader and a father, it is important to me that children have a healthy choice of food and that the value of this investment is a positive one."

Mr Gething sat down for lunch with some pupils, who then discussed their favourite meals, with popular choices including roast chicken and fish and chips. 

South Wales Argus: He met with some pupils and sat down with them for lunchHe met with some pupils and sat down with them for lunch (Image: NQ)Headmaster Tavis Prewett said the transformative power of the government's investment had been "enormous".

He said: "It has enabled us to provide better value nutritional meals with better student access. Our bigger canteen is allowing children to engage more with lunchtime staff, and with each other, turning lunch into a much more social event. 

"We've seen a massive difference and it is wonderful to be able to have made this happen."

Newly re-elected deputy council leader Deb Davies was also at the school, and said she was "really proud" of the positive impact that the investment was having on children. 

She added: "For some of these children, it might be the only hot meal they have all day. It's really important that we are able to reassure the parents who might be struggling that  their children are being fed."

South Wales Argus: Children have a wide choice of main meals and puddings each dayChildren have a wide choice of main meals and puddings each day (Image: NQ)The introduction of universal free school meals for primary school pupils is part of the Co-operation Agreement between the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru.

Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “Universal free school meals in all of our primary schools is making a real difference to the lives of thousands of children and helping families across Wales at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is having a real impact.

“We have been able to make sure no child goes hungry by working together through the Co-operation Agreement and delivering where we have common ground, as the people of Wales expect us to.”