Thursday, October 30, 2008

Healthy eating in schools conference

Ed Balls giving the keynote address at yesterdays conference. He was in listening mode and told me he would investigate ways of making free school meals easier to take up and will look at why it has to be applied for annually. Slightly less forthcoming about what to do about kids who are officially under the poverty line but still don't qualify for school meals.

Prof Winkler gave a great talk about the puchases children make at the school fringe. It was clear from his talk that whole school really means engaging with the local community.

The other really exciting presentation was from Rosemary Molinari from the Leeds School Meals Stategy group. They have commissioned research from the Faculty of Health at Leeds Metropolitan University to investigate why take up of free school meals in Leeds is so low. The initial finding indicate that the reasons the students gave were not due to stigma as is often thought but were for precisely the same reasons that children who eat packed lunches give for not choosing school dinners. Issues of choice, unpleasant dining rooms and queuing figured highly. Unfortunately I cant find the research on the web but will post a link to it as soon as I find one. I was really impressed with Rosemary. She had a really clear strategic vision. This is the first time I have heard about the exciting work Leeds are doing. am keen to find out more!!!

A great conference - thought provoking with terrific speakers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hang on a minute - where is this meat from?

Primary schools in Anglesea have complained to the Local Authority because their private catering company had promised to supply British or Irish meat in fact provided meat from Europe. You can read the full story here

This story cheers me up greatly. Pre-Jamie, I doubt many schools would have known or cared where there meat came from. The fact that 11 schools took it upon themselves to monitor the food they recieve and then make a complaint because it was wrong gives me hope that schools are taking more and more responsibility for the school dinner.

When schools are fully engaged it really raises standards. I believe that part of the reason caterers were able to get away with such poor quality dinners in the past was because of the lack of monitoring and holding to account. (I had planned to put a photo here to illustrate but Blogger won't let me!)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Any body heard of the renegade lunch lady Ann Cooper?

A big thank you to Stephanie from School Food Matters for sending me this link to Ann Cooper - the renegade lunch lady. She is a remarkable women who is passionate about what kids eat. I recomend you watch her video presentation - a bit shouty but fantastic!

School Food Trust Board meeting

Prue Leith and Jeanette Orrey make a formidable team!

Yesterday I attended a board meeting as an observer. I am so looking forward to 1 st November when I actually join .

Just in case anyone is wondering - yes the cake is compliant with nutrient standards. Tasted very good as well!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Now this is good food education!

East Sheen Primary school were brought to Laleham Farm in Staines by their school caterers, Pride, to see for themselves where their school dinner vegetables come from.
They even got to eat them - how great is that? School Food Matters are doing a terrific job of linking up schools in their area with farms willing to work from farm gate to school plate.

Surely that's better than getting the children to colour in a few worksheets about food groups?!
Well done teachers, caterers and School Food Matters for showing us how it should be done!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Todays report on poor quality of nursery food

You may have seen the media reports about the appalling food still being dished up in nurseries. Have a look at the full report produced by the Soil Association. Eagle eyed readers will spot parent Julia Staham from Newcastle. Julia was at a parents meeting in Newcastle that I spoke at. Julia came down to Merton and spent a day visiting Merton schools, meeting caterers and members of Merton Parents to help her set up her own Newcastle parents group. Looks like Julia has done a fantastic job in highlighting the dreadful provision in her own childs nursery. Well done Julia! let's hope that this exposure will herald some much needed reforms.

Todays dinner.

Very tasty dinner again. Cauliflower proved least popular with the kids on my table.However everyone I asked to try it did so. In fact some were so busy chatting to me they ended up eating it all once they started despite their original claims of loathing it

Breakthrough Breastcancer

I gave a talk yesterday to a wonderful group of seasoned campaigners. They were warm,friendly and highly motivated. It was an absolute pleasure to go out for dinner with them afterwards and I felt very inspired by the stories they told. The chairperson was Maggie Alexander who, it turned out actually knew and worked with Shelia Mckechnie. She was very kind about the work of Merton Parents and felt that Shelia herself would have heartily approved of the award we won from her memorial foundation

Monday, October 20, 2008

High School Musical 3

Nice to see the School Food Trust getting such positive coverage in todays Sun.
I am generally very nervous of celebrity promotions and marketing aimed directly at children but this could be the exception that proves the rule.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Families in poverty unable to claim free school meals

Rhoda Grant MSP has written an article for the John O Groat journal arguing it is too difficult to feed decent food to all the primary school children in Scotland in a dining room fit for purpose. She goes on to make the startling claim that ,

" children who need a free school meal get one at the moment"

Does Rhoda really believe this? Does she honestly not know that at the moment it is perfectly possible to be officially in poverty yet not qualify for school dinners?

I suggest she takes a good look at the excellent work the Child Poverty Action Group have done on this very subject. It is shameful that those families who are under the governments own official poverty line are not entitled to claim free school meals.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

power to the people!

Today I was interviewed by Helen for the National Council for Voluntary Organisation, (NCVO for short) They wanted me to tell the story of "Merton Parents" and explain how the involvement of parents was crucial to getting the kitchens built and the new contract in place.

It is amazing what Merton Parents was able to achieve- and to think in the early days all we were looking for was a few pieces of fruit and a tomato here and there!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another day, another dinner!

Having met with my school governors tonight I am feeling more and more convinced that it should be good practise for every school governor visit to be combined with a school lunch with report back to full governing body. I would actually like to talk to all the governors in Merton to explain why promoting school meal uptake is vital in protecting the interests of our most vulnerable kids.

My top reasons for increasing uptake:

  • To guarantee the survival of the school meal service
  • To ensure the most disadvantaged children get a decent lunch
  • To give children at least 2 of the 5 portions of fruit and veg they need
  • To keep prices down ( economy of scale will kick in)
  • to improve quality of ingredients we need strong buying power
  • to invest in training a new generation of school cooks
  • to cut down our school carbon footprint
We need to get Merton Parents for Better Food in School invited to some governor events!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Today's school dinner

I remembered to take my camera to school today so I could get some informal pics of the food. What do you think?

Click here to see the rest of my photos.

Monday, October 13, 2008

From pester power to parent power!!!

The children's food campaign has come up with a great idea - "a parent power" network. This group will reach out to all those Mums and Dads who are sick of having junk food advertised to their kids. Just think of all those PTA members, WI ladies, Brown Owls and green campaigners we can attract. We need to protect our children from the insidious advertising that suggests to children that they will be more popular, have more friends, run faster etc if only they persuade their parent to buy them some branded food stuff.

We don't have to put up with it! Some lively local campaigns from the parent power network with give the food industry some food for thought!

Am packing my bag for school tomorrow. Will be sure to take my camera so I can post some pics of the school dinners.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Induction day for the new board members

I have had an interesting day in the offices of the School Food Trust with all the new board members. Came out with lots of homework -mainly reading.

Nice lunch!

First board meeting will be in 2 weeks time.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Inspiration and desolation

I had a great time this morning at the School of Social Entrepeneurs in Bethnal Green. I spoke to some students about campaigning techniques we used when we were fighting to improve school food in Merton.

The School is a fantastic resource which aims to equip its students with the skills they need to achieve their goals. It was set up by Michael Young who was a truly inspirational man.

Feeling all inspired I headed back to Morden to deliver a talk to PSHE teachers about the importance of protecting school dinners to help their school meet their "Every Child Matters" targets. Disaster struck when my presentation failed to load. I ended up speaking from memory without my powerpoint with the lovely pictures of firemen and soldiers from the Boer war. You can see the presentation I would have given if you visit my page on e-snips.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Reception experiment

Well yesterdays school dinner at Poplar was very tasty. The reception children are currently enjoying a whole week of free school dinners as part of an experiment to increase uptake. Will be interested to see how many of the children go on to have them next week.

The majority of the children seemed to enjoy the food but I had forgotten what slow eaters very young children are. Some were very distracted by the noise of the older kids and the crashes and bangs from the kitchen. A couple of year 2 kids were concerned that I was only eating my dinner in the hall because I was no longer allowed in the staff room! Wonder what they thought I had done to get banned?!

Must remember to take my camera to school next week then I can post a pic of the dinner on my blog!

Update 14th October:
50% of reception children are now eating a school meal each day!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Go Scotland

Great news that scotland is rolling out free school meals for younger children Universial free provision is simply the most cost effective and efficient way of getting our children to eat better.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The object of the exercise

When we set up Merton Parents for Better Food in School we knew we had so set out some clear objectives. These are the ones we came up with:

1) To ensure that Merton Council develops a robust process to manage change in the provision of Secondary School meals, such that each school puts in place a plan by which they will achieve the overall aim.
2) Only good quality ingredients are used in school meals.
3) All cooking and food preparation is done on site.
4) Eating lunch is a pleasant experience for students.
5) The school lunch becomes an integral part of the education offered by the school.
6) The Council sets up an effective system for monitoring school dinners to ensure that the standards above are met and continue to be met.
7) To agree a target date by which all of the above will be achieved with clear, specific and measurable milestones.

You can find the more detailed version of these objectives on the Merton Parents For Better Food in School website - here.