Guest blog: time for parents (and children) to help improve school meals!

(8 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 29-Apr-13 11:14:57

School meals have come a long way from the days of soggy chips, turkey twizzlers and deep-fried hamburgers. But the number of children taking school meals is in decline - meaning the service might soon become unviable. The Sunday Times wants to increase take-up by making school meals tastier and healthier - but your help is needed!

They're asking children to rate and review their school dinner or packed lunch, for the chance to have a free lunch for themselves and their family at the restaurant of top chef Bruno Loubet in London. The winner will also be published in The Sunday Times.

Here John Vincent, co-founder of Leon Restaurants and author of the School Food Plan, explains more.

"I was at school in the 1970s and 1980s. At Chase Side Primary School in Enfield, I needed fuel to play kiss chase with Justine Willis (well, I am sure it was with others, but Justine was the main focus of the game) and to play football. The school meals were shipped in from another school and they were enough to put most non free school meals children off, and probably quite a few free school meals children too. So in the end I switched to being a packed lunch kid and opted for a ham and coleslaw sandwich (which I loved actually but probably not best to eat every day), a packet of crisps and either a kit kat or a wagon wheel.

At my secondary school we were part of the 1980s experiment to mould processed meats into different shapes and to see what happens if children eat chips every day (at least it meant that Chris Little perfected the technique of licking his chips to stop anyone else eating them).

Today, scientific studies have proven that the school meals served in many schools are much more nutritious than packed lunches, which are high in carbohydrate and sugars, and as a result of the ham, high in dangerous Nitrates and Nitrites. It is very difficult for even 'foodie' mums and dads to create a packed lunch that meets the nutrition that children need. And yet only 40% of children choose a school meal, vs 70% in the 1970s. And what's more, those who do often cherry-pick which days they do so, and navigate through the week to choose the burger or pizza day.

It means that some children, (up to one in four) are becoming obese. And that means they feel less good than they should. And it means that they are going to be less healthy later in life. Whether children are obese or not, many are not eating the right nutrition. And many have unbalanced blood sugar swings that leave them feeling sleepy and unable to learn. And others are hungry and equally unable to learn. Well fed children have better academic results.

The good news is that many schools are realising this. Led by Headteachers, supported by a committed bursar or business manager and passionate school cooks, these schools are focusing on the things that encourage children and parents to opt for a school meal: great food; social aspects such as short queues and being able to eat with friends; a nice place to eat; affordable prices; school food being seen as the cool or attractive thing to go for. In fact, Chase Side Primary School today is one of those - led by an inspiring Headteacher Sally Quartson.

This take-up benefits everyone. It allows for fixed costs to be spread, and for prices to come down. And it allows for more children to eat better.

The key is for the Head and their team to engage your children. And for them to engage you. If they don't, it is your turn to engage them. Many schools have been turned around by parents taking a lead. So we have teamed up with the Sunday Times to launch a campaign, to get you into the school to try the food. You may well be pleasantly surprised. If not, pleasantly surprise yourself by making sure that the Headteacher and the school's cooking staff start a revolution. Jamie Oliver and others started it. We are carrying it on. And so can you.

There have already been great strides made since Jamie put turkey twizzlers into the nation's consciousness sever years ago. My LEON colleague Henry Dimbleby and I have been working on an action plan, commissioned by Michael Gove and to be launched this Summer, to make sure our children are eating well in school and that cooking and food play a positive role more broadly in education. We have already made some big steps forward as part of our School Food Plan; Michael Gove has taken on board our advice to make cooking compulsory in the curriculum from September 2014. We have a generation of people who cannot cook for themselves or their families. We have set out to change this for the generation of children in school.

We'd love it if you joined the new Sunday Times Campaign for Better School Meals. You can make a great start by encouraging your children to write a review of food in their school. There are prizes. Which is nice.

We hope our Plan and the Sunday Times campaign will help many view school food in a new light - for it to be considered as crucial in cementing a healthy relationship between our children and the food they eat, for the rest of their lives. In the best schools we have seen cooks creating delicious and nutritious meals, children learning to grow vegetables and herbs, understanding where food comes from, visiting farms, and helping the school chefs cook the food they have grown themselves. And we have seen children given time to eat, to talk, sometimes with their teachers. It sounds natural. It is. Now let's make it normal.

Find out more about reviewing your school meals, and how to help make school meals better (competition terms and conditions apply).

LocalSchoolMum Fri 03-May-13 23:58:40

This is all very well, but our local Academy sells doughnuts, crisps, chocolate cookies, popcorn and fizzy drinks. Thanks to Michael Gove for exempting them from school food regulations. This is leading to poor nutrition and obesity. I have complained to the headteacher and met with a complete lack of interest in the students diet. Apparently it isn't fair on staff to deprive them of such necessities.

BoneyBackJefferson Mon 06-May-13 13:27:58

LocalSchool
"Apparently it isn't fair on staff to deprive them of such necessities."

Did the head say this or is it your prejudice showing?

As for the food its simple, many schools contract out to the lowest bidder. Not through preference but through the lack of budget.

Blueskiesandbuttercups Tue 07-May-13 21:11:34

You know what I'm sick of Michael Gove dictating this, that and the other. If it isn't longer school days,shorter hols, rote learning,over loaded curriculum etc,etc it's now trying to make us all use school dinners because the Tories can't be arsed to put more money into it. Sorry if I want to send packed lunches I will do.If Gove wants better food in schools perhaps he had better control food more in academies and ask for more cash in the education budget.

We actually like to eat together as a family so have our hot meal in the evening,I'm not paying £2 for sandwiches.They cost waaaay too much when you have 3 children and actually aren't half as healthy as the packed lunches I make even though said school has some healthy eating award. The portions of both hot and cold meals are ridiculously small,carb heavy,strange combinations etc,etc. I am not convinced re meat sourcing either. Children are also not made to chose veg or eat it. What I send in they finish when they get home and I can see exactly what they've eaten and where it's come from.

Also slightly concerned re the food police stories I've read on here so not keen on supporting something that will make my homemade cakes and flap jack contraband whilst school serves up cakes,flavoured milk,ice cream etc,etc.

Sorry will pass.

LocalSchoolMum Tue 07-May-13 23:15:48

Boney
The Chair of the PTA told me that about it being unfair on the staff. The Head told me they were abiding by the regulations - her little joke, seeing as regulations don't apply to academies.

BoneyBackJefferson Wed 08-May-13 07:11:02

Localschool
I doubt that the chair of governors will know what the teachers eat.

As for the head she is correct they are abiding by the regulations for academies.

Whilst I completely agree with any measures to to improve school meals, I dislike the notion of packed lunch police. At home we are pretty much carb and sugar free and my daughter's packed lunches are leftover stews, cheese, boiled eggs, salad and so forth. She doesn't have juice, sweets or cakes except as a treat or at parties. I don't fancy explaining to a misinformed teacher or dinner lady why I'd much prefer her to avoid pasta, wraps, sandwiches or any supposedly 'healthy' options and have a home made lunch instead. The same goes for school breakfasts, a choice of cereal or toast? No, thank you.

reptilian Fri 12-Jul-13 12:57:56

won't be doing that (supporting the campaign). All sounds a bit fascist to me and assumes that those parents who are educated and have a keen interest in the food content of their childrens' lunchboxes are far and few between. I provide healthy, additive -free lunches for my dairy and egg-allergic children. I do not use ham with added nitrates and I also provide fruit and veg.
let's hope this new campaign credits parents with some intelligence......

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