Monday, June 29, 2009

Todays lunch at Esher high School

We had a fantastic lunch at Esher High School and the chance to speak to the catering staff, teachers and students. The food looked great - the presentation was excellent. Seeing chefs in their whites made a great impression. The open plan design of the kitchen meant you could see for yourself how the food was being prepared. Having 2 sittings meant that although the hall was busy the students didn't have to queue for too long. Seeing teachers queue up to eat is a great sign that the food is good. Teachers we spoke to were very enthusiastic about the service and believed it was part of the schools responsibility to encourage children to stop and eat a good lunch. One of the deputy heads who has a PE background pointed out that it is crucial children understand food and it's impact on the body. He uses food to teach many different aspects of the curiculum. Recently the school held spanish lessons in the dining room with the spanish teacher describing in spanish as the Chef Scott prepared a spanish omelette.

Talking with Cucina MD Steve Quinn was a breath of fresh air. Without belittling the complex challenges that face school caterers it is all too easy to fall into doom and gloom. However Steve resists the temptation and concentrates on key areas where he can make a difference to childrens diet and health.

By raising the standard of the cooking - Cucina employ chefs, and presenting the food beautifully they are able to persuade children to sit down and enjoy a meal. They have an entrepeneurial spirit that means they look for opportunities to create new markets so they supply freshly cooked food to breakfast and after school clubs. Because it is Wimbledon fortnight they are doing a strawberry promotion so they take to the field and playground to sell strawberry kebabs to those kids who didn't make it into the dining room. After school they sell their own home made fruit juice lollies to kids as they leave school.

The food tasted great and the hall though a bit noisy was clean and well decorated with school council choosing the design. It is an indication of how well respected students at Esher High are because the corporate design Cucina came up with was over ruled by student council in favour of their own blue and white design.

The partnership and good relationship between the caterers and the school is evident. This really is good practice at its best and I would urge anyone looking for inspiration for their own school dinners to come and have a look. The excellent work they have done deserves to be recognised.

Visit to Esher Church of England High School

Paula (who is secretary of Merton parent's) and I are off to lunch at Esher High School today. The company providing the school lunches is Cucina and their MD Steve Quinn is a big fan of "stealthy" eating ie making familiar food more healthy by improving fruit and veg content by stealth.

I am pleased to see that the school website contains information about the menus. It always amazes me how few schools give even the most basic information about their school meal services such as the price or menu on their websites.

Will be sure to take my camera and will try to interview some of the students.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I need to get in the dining room earlier

I did try to get some pictures of the meals but by the time I arrived the kids had eaten most of their lunch.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

BCSE Industry awards

The School Food Trust sponsored an award at the British Council School Environments dinner last night. I presented an award to Manchester City Council for Gorton Education Village which won the best healthy design category.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Board Meeting

Teaching today and then getting the train to Sheffield for a board meeting of The School Food Trust tonight and tomorrow. Will let you know what went on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why don't primary schools teach cooking?

I was at a FEAST (Food Education at Schools Today) meeting this afternoon. There was a passionate debate on how we can get our primary schools cooking. There is now space for it in the curriculum - in fact it is now a requirement in the early years curriculum, in science and DT and in Personal and Social Health Education. Children and students tell us they love practical cookery lessons, parents are also keen so why doesn't it happen more?

There are funding implications of course - yet when interactive white boards became the must have for schools no stone was left unturned in the drive to fundraise and re juggle budgets to ensure schools could fund them.

I suppose that is the heart of it. Until schools think it is vital they won't prioritise making it happen. Whiteboards and computer suites are seen by Heads as crucial in a way that good food education is not.

The crisis in children's health due to diet related problems is not getting better. Teaching children about food; where it comes from, how to prepare it is more vital than ever.

If we can teach french, music, design technology, science etc without specialist teachers in primary schools why cant we teach cookery?

I know that there are pioneering schools who do manage it. Maybe if you know of one you could let me know how they do it.

Is your school food sustainable?

If you are interested in improving the sustainability of your school food have a look at this report The School Food Trust have produced.

It is aimed at catering and procurement staff but is a really helpful way in to any head, governor or concerned parent who wants to make improvements.

I am no expert so I would really appreciate any feedback on this report from anyone who is!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

"Contracts: a fresh look" training day

This was without a doubt one of the most inspirational courses I have ever attended. It was organised by Kena and Pamela for Good Food Training for London.It was fully booked and filled with contracts managers from the public sector. Instead of the dry dull technical details of contract writing this event actually showed in practical ways how the contract could be used to transform public food ensuring it was sustainable, healthy and tasty.

Roberta Sonnino from Cardiff University went through EU legislation to show how it was perfectly possible to stay with EU law and yet create contracts that favoured sustainable food procurement. She used real life examples from East Ayreshire and Rome to illustrate her points. In the past fear of the EU has led many local authorities to be conservative in their contracts. Roberta brought our attention to Article 26 of the Public Sector Directive 2004:

"Contracting authorities may lay down special conditions relating to the performance of a contract. The conditions may in particular concern social and environmental considerations"

This means you can interpret "best value" in much wider terms than just crude economic definitions of "cheapest".

Roberta showed us in some detail how the authorities in Rome had used this directive to create not just fantastic school lunches but also a powerful boost for local food producers and massive environmental benefits. In eat Ayreshire they calculate that their new contract has reduced food miles by a staggering 70% and spent an extra £160,000 in the local economy.

Roy Heath spoke after lunch about The Cornwall Food programme experience. Roy is responsible for the food in hospitals in Cornwall. He spoke with real passion as he outlined his approach to food procurement. His blunt advice to the audience was to get a pair of wellies because, "you cannot procure food from behind a desk". He shared with us powerful stories of local food producers able to grow and expand because of their relationship with the NHS.

There was lots of interest from those who attended and a willingness to share ideas and strategies. Pamela and Kena are going to collect all the relevant presentations and information to mail out to everyone interested and create an email list so we can stay in touch.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problems when we look at the terrible mess our food system is in but this training day was incredibily uplifting because it showed how a few individuals can begin to make changes by taking small, achievable steps.

Soon as I get the links to Roy and Roberta's presentations I will post them up.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Recent school dinners

Here are some photos of school dinners this half term. There has been a marked improvement in the vegetarian options, (see macaroni cheese and tofu stir fry pictures ) yet despite this the children are often relunctant to try them, prefering to stick with familiar options such as burgers. The dinner ladies need our support to encorage the children to be more adventurous. Would be great to see more school staff eating in the dining hall alongside children.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Banning kids from restaurants

Slightly off topic post as it is not about school food but it does concern children and food.

What do you think of restuarants policy in banning children?

Read this account by journalist Jon Ronson of his attempt to visit a restaurant in the Isle of Wight with his 8 year old son in tow.

Be sure to read the comments by readers below the article. Lots of anti child hysterical out pourings. The most vitriolic and offensive have had to be removed.

I don't get our attitude to children.Yes, they can be a pain and yes of course they need boundaries but they do get a raw deal in this society.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

And the winner is ...

St Aidans High School wins this years best school dinner award.Read more here

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Real food education

I was contacted at The Children's Food Campaign by Action for Rural Sussex. They have started a fantastic project to get more local food into the classroom.They arrange for secondary schools to visit local farms to see how produce is grown/reared and talk to farmers. The school then takes produce back to school to cook as part of DT lessons. The charity do all the hard work - they find the farms, meet the farmers, prepare health and safety assessments, brief the teachers, sort out worksheets, fund the transport and the farmers costs and then the schools are free to get on with the improtant task of teaching the children. They have completed a pilot and got very positive feedback from teachers and students alike.They have sucessfully created relationships between cookery teachers and farmers that previously didn't exist

I think that once schools take part in this it is easier for them to organise it for themselves the next time round.

The challenge now is for them to get a lottery grant and to find some match funding. i am really hoping to find out more about this wonderful scheme because I think it could be a blueprint for all secondary schools. We stand little chance of getting young people to reevaluate their diets unless we begin to equip them with the skills they need to do so.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Menu for September

I went to Cricket Green School this morning to meet Catherine Marsh, the deputy head and David Tchilingirian, Merton's nutritionist to discuss next terms menus in the primary schools. We 've suggested a few tweaks. One of the issues that came up was the veggie options. Do you always make the dishes equivalent? ie serve meat lasagne on the same day as vegetable lasagne - or does this lead to the kids who don't like lasagne refusing to eat anything? Need to give this some thought.

On a brighter note, it was lovely to see Cricket Green School. The school has such a calm, tranquil yet purposeful atmosphere. I really got the sense that the children were all treated as individuals and cared for with warmth and affection.

We were taken to meet the cooks and it was clear that they are an important part of the school staff. Catherine is clearly doing a great job!

Strategy Day

Well we are now much clearer about what we want to achieve this year. We were able to thrash out our strategic aims and begin to develop an action plan with excellent guidance from Denis. Paula is typing up the notes but as soon as she is done I will post them up.

However being clear about our recruitment aims is a big priority and sorting out the secondary schools is the other. I think everyone came away re energised and keen to get back to our campaigning roots!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The future for Merton Parents

Just getting ready to head off to our strategy day. The committee of Merton Parents all have busy lives juggling family commitments, work, as well as being on PTAs,school governing bodies etc. It can be difficult to develop a clear vision of where we are going when we are running around reacting to different events. Therefore we have planned today so that the committee can spend a day together to focus on our strategy for the next year. We are living in such uncertain times, both politically and economically we need a clear vision of what we want.

We have a great facilitator, Denis Cummings, who is going to help us clarify our aims. Up for discussion are:

assessing what we have achieved so far
our strategy for change in the secondary schools
a recruitment strategy
national campaigning

Before I finish I would just like to ask anyone who has a spare minute to look at the Children's Food Campaign network. I have posted about it before but basically it is a site for food campaigners and parents who are concerned about all aspects of childrens food. It is early days for the network but we need anyone who feels passionately to sign up. It is vital our voices are heard if we are going to turn the tide on the food industry and put the needs of our children first. Many parents are looking to us to give a lead so please if you have strong views about what we need to do to improve our childrens access to good food please register, set up a group, put a link to your own website/blog etc. It is going to take the combined efforts of all of us!

Your feedback would be hugely appreciated.This is a very steep learning curve!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Does your local authority tell you about school dinners

I recently came across Nottingham County Council website devoted to the school dinner service.

It strikes me as quite good. I like the frequently asked questions and the food provenance page. It could do with a few photographs of the food maybe but other than that I think it is a great resource - as long as schools remember to point parents to it of course.

Monday, June 1, 2009

School dinners around the world

I came across these pictures of school dinners from around the world. Which country's offering do you think looks the most appealing?