Monday, March 30, 2009

Off to learn how to e campaign

I am looking forward to going to a conference for the next couple of days to learn about e campaigning.

Although we have to be engaged at local level and the majority of my campaigning takes place in the actual world I do think Merton parents would never have been as sucessful as it was without our access to email and the web.

The Children's Food Campaign is going to set up a social network site very soon which will help us connect with each other in order to make changes in our own real communities. This is a really exciting time to get involved. Those irresponsible food companies and disengaged politicians will be getting a timely wake up call once we have connected up the growing numbers of parents and supporters who believe some serious improvements in children's food is long overdue!

Tickets for "Angry Moms" screening are starting to go. Please email Paula for tickets now if you are planning to come along.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Here is an open letter from the Chief Executive of the School Food Trust

I just wanted to give you an up-date on the nutrient-based standards following a swathe of media coverage this week about whether the standards can be met and what this means with respect to choice within secondary schools.

Firstly, let me reassure you the standards can and have been met and you can find example menus on our website:

We are continuing to add compliant menus to the website, all the time, as our pilots run their course. And in LACA’s recent survey of its own membership, 35% were confident that they would be compliant with the nutrient-based standards in secondary schools by September and a further 49% thought they might be compliant.

We know the standards are challenging and thus we are delighted that so many caterers and local authorities are making such good progress. For those who still need support, we stand ready and willing to assist, wherever possible.

One of the things that was widely reported this week was that the only way to meet the standard for iron was by putting spinach and liver on every menu. Whilst many of us might find this a dish of delight, we know it may not be the average teenager’s lunch of choice. So again, let me reassure you the menus on our website are offal free!

Whilst I am dispelling myths, let me try to bust a few others:

Ó Myth: The nutrient based standards restrict choiceNot true. There is plenty of choice available in menus that meet the nutrient-based standards. Even meal deal menus generally offer a range of different meal deals. But by making only healthier choices available, it means children are much more likely to eat a balanced lunch as well as bringing variety into their diet.

Ó Myth: The nutrient-based standards will increase costsNot true. Our pilots showed that most cost increases came with the introduction of food based standards – as caterers introduced better ingredients and more cooking from scratch. Analysing the menus and recipes does require nutritional software or expertise but this work can be done together across a number of schools with similar provision and the School Lunch Grant can be used to support the costs.

For more information see: for more information

Ó Myth: The nutrient-based standards will mean job losses – Not true. The support that has been given to schools to improve food should mean that they can increase take up. Increased take up should ensure that jobs are retained. Schools and caterers have a virtually guaranteed customer base – provided they market it well - and initiatives such as the Million Meals campaign can help. Many high street caterers would envy having such a captive audience.

Ó Myth: This is all the caterers fault – Not true. Caterers cannot help pupils to eat better without support from schools and parents. Schools have a vital role to play in helping to engage pupils, teachers and parents.

Ó Myth: The food-based standards alone should be enough – Not true. Food-based standards are good for making sure that pupils get daily servings of fruit and vegetables, or not too much deep-fried food. But nutrient-based standards provide a much better way to limit the total amount of fat, sugar and salt in the food on offer and can ensure that there is enough iron and calcium in an average lunch to meet pupils’ needs.

Ó Myth: Nutrient-based standards mean that we have to give children liver and spinach to make sure they get enough iron – Absolutely not true! Every caterer knows that few children like liver, so we do not see it on the menu, but a spinach and ricotta pasta dish could be (and goes down a treat). Good sources of iron include red meat, eggs, canned fish, dark green vegetables - like broccoli and green beans - nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and treacle (as in treacle sponge pudding!).

Ó Myth: Nutrient based standards are too difficult to implement. – Not true. Caterers are likely to need professional support from a nutritionist or dietitian to help evaluate their menus for compliance with the nutrient-based standards. But, it is common practice in modern life to take advice from experts.

Ó Myth: Nutrient based standards mean that we will lose customers and drive children onto the high street – Not true. It is not the menu that turns children away – it is the environment, queues and whether or not the food is tasty and nicely presented. All these lie in the control of the school and the caterer.

Over the next few weeks we will continue working to clarify any existing confusion about the standards. If you would like more information do go to our website where you will find a wealth of data about the standards and how they can be met. If you think there are other myths we need to bust do let me know. Please feel free to share these myth-busters with colleagues – maybe you can use them in a school newsletter?

Most of all, we want to help you reassure parents and pupils that school food is of high quality and good value for money.

Yours sincerely,

Judy Hargadon

Judy Hargadon

Chief Executive

School Food Trust

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Waiting for Guardian

I was asked to write an article for The Guardian, "Comment is Free" website about LACA complaints over nutrient standards. It should be up any minute now! Will post a link as soon as it appear

It is now live. Click here to see. Don't forget to register with guardian to post a comment

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

These are lunchs which meet nutrient standards

This is the lunch served yesterday at my school. (Lasagne with salad, jacket potato with a tomato sauce for veggies) The menus are compliant with the nutrient standards that LACA claim are unworkable. I am preety confident that many teenagers would find this acceptable food if they didn't have to queue for ages and had a half decent canteen to eat it in.

Talk to secondary students and the complaints about the dinners are rarely to do with the food. They are quite rightly fed up with the totally inadequate facilities. Substandard canteens, dirty tables, ridiculously long queues, expensive prices, teachers pushing in and food running out tend to be the most common complaints I hear.

Don't fight the standards LACA. Use your influence for better facilities.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

LACA summit on secondary schools

LACA (The Local Authority Caterers Association) are concerned about the implementation of the nutrient standards for secondary schools. You can read a full account of their worries in The Guardian.

They are predicting the collapse of the secondary school meal service if the government insists they have to meet the nutritional guidelines.

Given the alarming health crisis facing the health of our children I am amazed we are still having this debate. It should not be possible for our young people and children to eat food at school that will damage their health.

Where secondary schools have invested in dining rooms, worked on the menus, reduced queing times, ensured the price is fair school dinner numbers have gone up.

When you talk to young people about school food their biggest complaint is usually the appalling conditions in the 'canteen' that see endless queues, food running out and expensive prices.

It is not nutrient standards that are to blame for low numbers but the shameful conditions most students are faced with.

I do remember similar dire predictions from LACA when the current food standards were rolled out.

After seeing some truly dreadful slop passed of as school meals I for one welcome the standards. They will at least offer some protection against nutritionally poor food being served up at school.

The school meal service should not be expected to make a profit. It should meet the needs of the children and young people within its care.

I will be going along to the Summit on Wednesday to have my say.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Food Standards Agency stand up to food industry!

FSA have recommended that the government keep the protein cap in their regulations .This means that some of the worst sugary breakfast cereals will not be allowed to advertise during Children's TV. The Daily Mail have written about it here.

The food industry will not be happy and will no doubt exert pressure to get this reversed. At a time when the government is funding big public health programmes such as change 4 life it seems ludicrous that they should let some of the worst children food products be advertised directly to children.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Get your tickets before they are all gone!

Merton Parents for Better Food in School, The Children's Food Campaign, School Food Matters and Netmums have got together to hold a screening of the film "Two Angry Moms" at Wimbledon Odeon on 23 April at 8.00pm.

Film maker and angry mom, Amy Kafala,will be there to lead the discussion after the film.

Its a terrific film that will inspire parents to get involved with improving food at their local school. When you think what we are up against: the food industry, massive crisis in childrens diet, looming health scares etc we owe it to the children to make sure our schools offer only good tasty food.
This film will inspire you to get involved. Please could you

  1. Download the flyer by clicking here and send it on to every parent/carer you know.
  2. Email Paula@mertonparents to register for tickets

Friday, March 20, 2009

Darren Bent supports school dinners

Spurs footballer Darren Bent went to Chace School in Enfield to promote school dinners and take part in a cookery lesson. Nice one Darren. Please don't join the ever increasing band of celebritity sports people who are happy to endorse junk food and advertise all sorts of dodgy stuff.

Darrens visit was arranged by The School Food Trust as part of the million meals initiative

Obamas dig up White House lawn to plant vegetables

Renegade lunch lady Ann Cooper alerted me to this on her blog. Read the full account here. .I do have a link to it on my blog- it is always worth a read.

What are the chances we can persuade Gordon to do the same at number 10? Surely it wouldn't hurt to ask him?

From dragons den to school

Another secondary school that is providing tasty freshly cooked food - but this time it is caribbean style. Click here to read about Levi Roots's take on school dinners.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lunch at St Saviour's and St Olave's School, Southwark

I was at a "Let's Get Cooking" demonstrator day today which was being held at St Saviour's and St Olave's School in Southwark We had the most fantastic lunch! It was really tasty, beautifully presented and served in a lovely airy purpose built canteen that overlooked the schools herb garden. I was really impressed with the care and attention to detail.

It just shows what is possible when you put your mind to it! Full marks to the catering staff, Harrisons and the head teacher. It was a very pleasant experience eating at your school.

The Sun backs teachers ?

Have a look at this article from The Sun newspaper. I was rather pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lots of salad but......

I thought the burgers were supposed to be home made? I will investigate and report back.

News update: I have just heard from Caterhouse that these are organic burgers from Brakes. The homemade burger appears on week 3 of the menu cycle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Let's Get Cooking! - the movie.

I know I have waxed lyrical about how brilliant this scheme is before but it really is fantastic. The programme funds equipment and ingredient spend. the training provided is fantastic. Please watch the video of a demonstrater day to get an idea of just how fantastic it is. You can find more details on the Let's Get Cooking website.

PS the final shot of Sophie the instructor is at the end of the day when she has finished -that's the only reason her hair is down!

Congratulations to Sheen Mount primary school

Sheen Mount have relaunched their school meal service. They have now got 350 children eating a school lunch for 3 days a week ( that is over 85% of the school) with 220 children eating lunch 2 days a week. The school and the caterers have worked really hard to ensure that the children get a great lunch cooked from scratch in new kitchens with locally produced food.

It is really heartening to learn that the school have also gone to great lengths to make the dining experience very civilised by ensuring the children have square tables and proper plates. Queuing times have been reduced and the remaining children who have packed lunches are allowed to sit with their friends.

Well done to every one at the school. I am sure the children and parents really appreciate the efforts the school and caterers have made. I think initiatives like this will do more to promote children's health than expensive health promotion campaigns.

I am sure that Stephanie from School Food Matters has been very helpful with this.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Todays lunch

Todays lunch was cauliflower cheese or tuna wrap. Cauliflower was perfectly cooked. Well done Chef!

Looking around the hall it was easy to see that school dinner children are eating lots more fruit and veg than their packed lunch friends.

We are having a heated debate about the Red Tractor logo within Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools. Does anyone out there have any views they would care to share?

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Parent Power" network

I have long been of the opinion that there are lots of parents out there who are keen to stand up for better food for children. They may be a minority in the school playground or at the PTA meeting but together they could give a powerful alternative to prevailing views.

That's why The Children's Food Campaign is investigating setting up an online community of concerned parents who want to campaign for major improvements. I have been working on drawing up a "manifesto" so parents can identify if this community is for them.

I would really appreciate some feedback on this

(NB this is purely a rough draft for consultation. It has not been agreed by the Children's Food Campaign. This is something I am working on and is a work in progress!)

Please read and let me know what you think.

We want all children to have easy access to good quality food that is tasty, freshly prepared, nutritious and produced responsibly.

We want all schools to offer good food at lunchtime in pleasant surroundings conducive to civilised dining.

We believe that schools have a responsibility to provide real food education. That means cookery lessons, opportunities to grow food at schools and visits to farms and allotments. We want our children to understand where there food comes from.

We want local authorities to ensure that our communities aren't dominated by junk food joints. We want the places we know are used by children and young people such as swimming baths, cinemas and shopping centres to provide decent, reasonably priced alternatives to junk food. Free drinking water should be easily available at all leisure centres, parks and shopping centres.

We want our politicians to stand up to the food industry to protect children and young people from the barrage of food marketing that is aimed at them. We know that poor diet and obesity may be responsible for up to one third of all cancers, soaring diabetes rates and and increased heart disease so it is highly irresponsible to encourage young people and children to eat a diet high in saturated fats, high salt and sugar. We want to see regulations for proper food labelling and reformulations of worst offending products.

We know that we have no time to waste. We are facing a potential time bomb but if we act now we can secure a healthier future for all of our children.

I am going to take action by signing up now.

What do you think? Would you join a community that stood for this?

Friday, March 6, 2009

International campaign against junk food advertising

Interesting website from Consumers International http:// about the international campaign to protect children from junk food marketing

Watch this video

I highly recommend this video about school food in America. It covers procurement, sustainability, marketing to children and obesity. It is a highly intelligent analysis by chef Ann Cooper. Click here to watch

Let's Get Cooking!

Had a fantastic day at Bishop Wand School taking part in the the Lets Get Cooking training.

Well done to the organisers . I came away feeling really inspired.
Am in the process of editing the footage I took. Will be sure to post the films ASAP

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Weight watchers on the NHS?

I was at Westminster today at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity meeting. One of the speakers was from Weight Watchers. She described how they are working with some GP's And PCT's to help people lose weight. While they can be very effective I did raise concerns (from my own experience I may add!) that they sometimes used high pressure sales techniques at the meeting to sell expensive weight watcher merchandise such as special scales, spoons, recipe books, magasines and some very dubious processed foods. I would like some reassurance that doesn't still happen.

For the record: I did successfully lose weight with weight watchers and have managed to keep it off with out needing their branded goods.

Vegetarian option wins

I thought the vegetable roll with salad was lovely today. Most of the children went for the chicken rissotto. I personally thought it looked a little dry. My son tells me the sponge pudding was good.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Victory for free school meals campaign in Islington

It looks like the labour party have been successful in introducing free primary school meals , £100 rebate for pensioners and a reduction in councillor allowances. Click here to read an account of what sounds like a very exciting meeting. Well done!

I am amazed that the green party councillor was unwilling to support the free school meals initiative. Collective efforts to feed large groups are always a much greener solution - less transport, less wrapping and most effective use of cooking energy.

I am so fed up with the argument about subsidizing rich people. Last time I checked rich people still get to use the NHS, claim child benefit and take advantage of clean drinking water. Why don't we just tax the rich more rather than deny free school meals for all?