Food and Drink

Free School Milk

Between 1937 and 1967 Kiwi kids received a ½ pint of milk at school. Introduced by New Zealand’s first Labour government the scheme made use of surplus milk along with providing kids with a ‘meal’ when times were economically tough for many families in the country.

In the United Kingdom, the Education Act 1944 meant if was a requirement of education authorities to provide children with school meals and milk. Further emphasis was added two years later in 1946 with the implementations of the School Milk Act which was to provide all children under the age of 18 with a third of a pint of milk daily. This was abolished for all children over the age of 7 in 1971 by Margaret Thatcher which earned her the nickname “Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher” (perhaps prior to the Iron Lady monkier).

A similar programme also ran in some States in Australia in the 1950’s – 1970’s although New Zealand had the longest and most widespread period of free school milk in the 1900’s with 30 years straight.

While milk assists in bone and teeth development, the scheme was discontinued in on the 10th February 1967 due to the ongoing cost and as questions began arising of the health benefits of milk.


The scheme was reinstated over 45 years later in 2013 by Fonterra who began supplying free long-life milk to Kiwi kids. As a result, today over 140,000 Kiwi kids are drinking milk daily.

In the 20th Century, school milk was provided in the traditional swap-a-crate glass bottle which were often left outside due to the lack of widespread refrigeration systems meaning the milk began to turn. As a result, not everyone was a fan of or has fond memories of such a time with many trying to sneak their slightly curdled dairy down the drain. These days school milk is provided in a tetra pack (along with widespread refrigeration) alongside an organised recycling programme with over 120 million serves provided to Kiwi kids in the past 6 years.

While the iconic years of free school milk have ended, the tradition continues.

Do you remember free school milk? What did you think of it? Let us know about it – we would love to hear from you.

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