Councils champion school meals experience

Today we’re celebrating thirteen councils joining us on a mission to get more children eating school mealsKitchen1

Following the launch of the School Food Plan in 2013, we’re working with the local authorities* across the South West, South East and East Midlands to help schools encourage more pupils to opt for lunches in the canteen.

The scheme, which sits alongside the Government’s funding of free school meals for infants, is designed to help junior and secondary schools get more children choosing the school dining room at lunchtime.

Commissioned by the Department for Education, we’re giving specialist training to local authority and academy trust teams so they can help schools get more children opting for school meals, focusing on the small things which can make a big difference. We’re also offering these schools ready-made marketing programmes to get pupils excited about school meals, along with site visits and one-to-one support on operational issues.

Support is available in other regions from the Food For Life Partnership – led by the Soil Association – and the Design and Technology Association. As Ofsted announces that healthy eating will be part of school inspections from September 2015, all three organisations are urging schools not to miss out on a share of more than one million pounds worth of training, support and materials.

Linda Linda Cregan, our Chief Executive Officer, says: “Rightly, there’s been a heavy focus on supporting infant schools to make sure they were ready to deliver free school meals for all their pupils, but if we want that legacy to last throughout children’s school years, we have to make sure help gets to other schools, too. And with Ofsted’s inspection framework including such an emphasis on food from September this year, there’s an even bigger incentive for schools to get this right. That’s why we’re so delighted to welcome these local authorities on board and why we’re keen to talk to more local authorities and schools in these regions to make sure they’re getting a share of this invaluable support.”

Libby Grundy from the Food For Life Partnership said: “Improving school meals has been put on the plate of head teachers, caterers and school business managers in recent years and this support package is an ideal way they can access expert support. Improving school meals will in turn lead to improvements in attainment and behaviour which is great news for any school. I am delighted that Ofsted inspections will now include school food; schools need not be daunted by this and if staff at junior or secondary schools need a little extra support then the packages on offer across England can make all the difference, but time is of the essence so please register now.”

Louise Davies from the Design and Techology Association said: “Our programmes provide tailor made support for schools so that they are totally supported in making changes to school meals and learning about food choices. Every headteacher, governing body and food teacher needs to grab this opportunity for fully funded and proven solutions immediately.”

*We’re working with with Swindon, Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, West Berkshire, Bracknell Forest, Reading, Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead and Portsmouth local authorities in our Make School Meals Count project.

For more information on the support available across the country under the scheme, click here.


When the chips are down…

Tricia web   The funny thing about teenagers’ down time on a school day is that it’s anything but. They tell us their journeys to and from school, their breaks, their lunchtimes are taken up with their priorities: to relax, let off some steam, socialise and, yes, to eat. If they don’t think they’ve got enough time to do all of these things during their downtime, guess what’s often the first thing to slip off their priority list?

Maybe that’s why young people are so drawn to food on the run. The takeaway concept – something they can eat quickly, without cutlery, often without having to sit down (at least for long) works for their priorities.

The fly in the ointment (or the fat fryer, in this case) is that many of the takeaway options available to kids outside of school aren’t doing their health any favours. Salford City Council’s looking at a unique approach to tackling this, seeking views on plans to ban future takeaways near schools from serving any hot food until after 5pm.

We’ve always supported councils which are really getting hold of this issue – after all, our own research several years ago showed there was an average of 23 junk food outlets for every secondary school in England. Who knows what that figure would be now? Over the years, as schools have worked to improve the food they serve, many local authorities have begun using planning powers to prevent new takeaways from opening right outside the school gates. Many schools have brought in ‘stay on site’ policies for lunchtimes, preventing pupils from heading out to fill up on sweets, deep-fried fixes and sugary drinks which do nothing for their ability to concentrate in class. Crucially, rather than work against teens’ love of the takeaway, some schools have got really clever about recreating that quick-fix, food-on-the-go concept in their canteens in a much healthier way – mirroring those high street grab and go options that really appeal to young people, without the heavy doses of saturated fat, sugar and salt.

But one of the best ingredients I’ve seen over the years is where schools work with local businesses, including takeaways and supermarkets, to agree how and when they’ll sell food to pupils. There have been some fantastic examples of schools talking to these nearby businesses and coming to an agreement, perhaps making a deal not to serve pupils at all during certain hours of the day. These schools consult on their plans with parents and pupils and bring everyone along with them.

Noone disagrees that we want children to eat well, and any teacher will tell you that kids perform so much better in school when they’re not fuelled up by empty calories (research backs this up too). If we want them to grow up to be healthier than our generation, the whole community has to work together to help them make better choices about what to eat. It’s a big part of the recipe.

Dr Tricia Mucavele heads up our nutrition team. Get in touch for help with using stay on site policies at your school, or if you’d like help from our experts on working with your community on children’s nutrition issues.  

Why should pupils love good school food?

Kevin McHugh - 14 reasons

Catering Manager Kevin McHugh has been head chef at Towers School in Kent for seven years.  To mark the season of love in Cook for Success magazine, he’s blogging about why he thinks  pupils and parents should get the chance to fall in love with good school food. Below you’ll also find links to help you do the same…

Enjoying a well-balanced meal at midday keeps your mind alert during afternoon lessons – and here’s the research to prove it!

Great school meals should be made using the finest and freshest ingredients – have you seen the special bulk buying contracts that will help save you money on some of the most widely used school dinner ingredients? Email our children’s food advisors on to find out more.

There’s always a great choice on the menu – You can find lots of inspiration to boost your menu’s nutrient content in our Recipes for Success booklets.

School menus changes from week to week, day to day – and to help cooks make the most of seasonal ingredients and keep meals varied, we’re always sharing new recipes, menus ideas and tips on how to make sure new meals are compliant on our website

School meals are fantastic value for money – we’ve developed a free guide to helps schools make sure meals are affordable for families; you can see how it’s been working really well for schools in Bolton.

A school restaurant is a social place to eat and meet mates making improvements to the look and feel of a school canteen and dining can have a big impact on take up.

Having a school dinner can help children boost their five-a-day – have you seen our Take Two campaign which aims to encourage pupils to have at least two of their recommended fruit and veg as part of the school lunch?

Parents can rest assured knowing that their children will have a healthy well-balanced lunch if their school follows national school food standards – everything a parent needs to know can be read in our Little Book of Goodness.