Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Children of working mums eat more crisps ?

There is a report out today by the Institute of Child Health which looked at 12,500 five year olds. They found that those children with working mothers are less active and are more likely to eat unhealthy food.Children of working mums were more likely to drink sweetened drinks and snack between meals, watch more TV and spend less time walking and playing out.

The question is what can we do about it? As I see it we have 2 choices:

a) Use it to have a go at Mums and increase their stress levels further. Most working mums already suffer high guilt levels

b) Put in place a raft of measures to support working parents - eg breakfast clubs at schools and nurseries. Free, good quality school lunches available at every school. Increase in work based creches.Restrictions on the advertising and promotions of high fat snacks like crisps and high sugar drinks. Limits on fast food restaurants that dominate our high streets and support for family friendly restaurants that sell balanced meals at reasonable prices.

If you look back at the second world war when the government needed women to enter the workforce in large numbers there were lots of initiatives to support working women including massive canteens that provided family meals.

Poverty is a blight on the lives of so many children in this country. Women are under huge pressure to combine motherhood and work. No one is expecting the state to pick up the tab for the cost of children but surely it could help by supporting school meals and fresh fruit and veg schemes? I find the change4life attempts to persuade us to change our behaviour insulting and banal

It is irksome that this study concentrates on the children of working mums. Wonder how the children of working dads fare?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Meeting with the authority

Spent all morning in a "School Meals Development group" meeting. There were representatives from head teachers, merton parents for better food in school and staff from the the council. We were joined part way through the meeting by staff from ISS Caterhouse.
I think it is fair to say primary school meals in Merton didn't get off to the most brilliant start. Changes with the suppliers led to delivery problems which resulted in menu deviations. However we were able to thrash this out with the contractors and this should not happen again. We were also pleased to learn that the menu had been rejigged so pasta will no longer appear 4 times in one week!
All primary schools will be given a week of free school meals for all their reception children. This is being paid for out of the school lunch grant money that the government provides to help councils increase the number of children eating school meals.
There was also a brief discussion about looking at different ways to collect school dinner money. We were very nervous that a high tech solution could end up beingg more costly and potentially create more work. However the council are planning to research this properly before they make any changes. As Merton parents we want to make sure we get lots of views from parents before there are any changes. So watch this space!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dana Woldow

Dana Woldow is a campaigning parent in San Francisco who has done a remarkable job in standing up for freshly cooked food in schools. She has worked with a group of students to produce a great video

If you are interested in American school food can I suggest you read Dr Susan Rubins excellent blog. This is where I found out about Dana.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Savage cuts?

Discussions about cutting public spending strike me as very worrying. We need to keep our nerve here. It is foolish and short sighted to try and claw back money at the expense of our children. The children are not responsible for the appalling crisis that bankers created. Why are we expecting the poorest and most vulnerable to suffer the cuts?

Not only is it immoral but it is ridiculously short sighted. Let's just think back to how the current crisis in school food actually began. It was a short sighted decision by a Conservative government who spotted an opportunity to deregulate school meals to save a few quid what a miscalculation that has proved to be!

The 1980 Education Act abolished minimum nutritional standards for the meals and ended the obligation for local authorities to provide meals. This meant schools could seve up burger and chips without a hint of fruit and veg with impunity. This act coupled with the introduction of Commercial Competitive Tendering meant that authorities had to choose the cheapest of the cheap burgers on offer. This was followed by the 1986 Social Security Act which meant thousands of children lost their entitlement to free school meals.

How much have these cuts actually cost? Generations of children who ate a nutritionally poor diet have health consequences. Armies of cooks made redundant and unable to pass on their skills to the next generation.

The money the state spends on school food is a drop in the ocean compared to other areas of state spending, (£20 billion to replace Trident springs to mind) and if it means children increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables then the savings to health will be worth it.

There is an excellent article on the history of school dinners on Derek Gillard's website.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Notes from a hospital bed

Have just discovered this blog, Notes from a hospital bed, about hospital food. Some poor journalist has been struck down with a dire disease which means he is forced to endure a lengthy hospital stay. He is posting photographs of the meals. It is really worth a look.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Guide to school dinners for reception parents

I have now got a link that takes you straight to "The Little Book of Goodness". Click here

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Little Book of Goodness

If you are a parent of a reception aged child you should have got a copy of the "Little Book of Goodness" courtesy of The School Food Trust. They were sent out to all primary schools yesterday. As well as lots of pictures of typical food and information about the nutritional standards there is a competition to win a years free school lunches. Simply text the word GOODNESS to 81400. Click here for terms and conditions. There will be 50 lucky winners!

Good nutrition starts at school

I came across Kerry Trueman's blog last night. Glad we are all singing from the same hymnsheet!

The video is definitely worth watching. Our secretary Paula, found the trays painful to watch. So glad we are eating from plates in Merton.

However please don't think we have everything fixed here in Merton. Hearing some disturbing tales about how our caterers are having problems. Have a committee meeting tonight so will report back later.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Kid's cookery cards

Whilst I was on holiday Fi Bird from Stirrin Stuff published her brilliant kids cookery cards. Fi is an amazing woman - she is a mother of 6, masterchef finalist and a tireless campaigner. She is passionate about teaching kids how to cook and cares deeply about the sustainability and ethics of food production. I would recommend that you have a look at her website. She is also a prolific twitterer so you also follow her tweets!

The cookery cards are laminated, clearly written and suitable for kids from 8 upwards. You can read a review of the cards here Since I am on crutches and relieved of kitchen duties I plan to throw the cards in the direction of the kids and see what they come up with! Watch this space...

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fresh food v frozen food

There is a report in todays Telegraph that frozen food can be more nutritious than fresh food. Researchers from Sheffield Hallam University have decided that "frozen food could be more appropriate for school dinners because it creates less waste, is cheaper and more readily available"

The objection I have to have frozen food is that the majority of it is heavily processed. I have no worries about having the meals supplemented with portions of frozen veg but I do not want a return to industrially produced frozen pies, reformulated meat products, high fat pastry products etc - however cheap and easy it is for the caterers. Yes, by all means let the cooks cook double quantities to freeze and make the most of surplus tomatoes and berries - but please spare us the frozen ready meals.

Surely cooking food from scratch, using where possible seasonal and local ingredients is the best model for all food production?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

MP lunchs

Some interesting thoughts about MP lunches in todays Guardian What really galls me is that MPs who earn over £66,000 (plus expenses) are able to take advantage of these subsidised lunches whilst at the same time deny the same generous subsidies to hard working low income families.

We still have families who are under the official poverty line yet cannot claim free school meals. Unbelievable.

Free school meal pilot dropped

Children in Essex schools Lansdowne Primary and Herringham Primary were expecting free school meals as they had been told they were to be taking part in a special trial. However the first day back the parents were told that the PCT and authority had changed its priorities and the scheme had been dropped. Not surprisingly many parents were angry about the lack of notice and the shortsightedness of this decision. Read an account here

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I'm back!

Sorry for the long silence - especially when there has been so much going on in the world of UK school dinners! I have broken a couple of bones in my foot during a brilliant Sports day that Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming held. Although it is a relatively minor injury the swelling and bruising mean it is quite painful and I find sitting at the computer uncomfortable. However I am itching to comment on a few issues

1) Trial of universal free school meals.
Well it is early days but initial reports look good. You can read an account of the impact they are having in a school in Durham by clicking here If we are serious about wanting to improve the diet of the nations children then this is the simplest and most cost effective way to do it. Instead of spending money on shiny glossy ad campaigns like change4life persuading children to eat more fruit and veg surely it is better to invest in decent lunches for our children? It is better to lead by example rather than lecture! As well as the health benefits it also gives a boost to local economies - training and employing staff to cook and serve the food creates jobs. If we were really intelligent we could also create a market for small growers and local farmers to supply their local schools with fresh produce.

2) Making it easier for low income families to claim free school meals.
A recent study commissioned by the School Food Trust discovered that up to 1 in 5 low income families didn't realise they were entitled to free school meals. You can have a look at the report here. I think it is absolutely scandalous that the arrangements to claim are so complex. Entilement to free school meals should be automatically triggered when you claim for benefits taking the onus off parents to deal with the paperwork.

3) And finally....

being an avid fan of twitter, (my user name is jackieschneider if anyone wants to be pals!)I absolutely love Somerset County Services who now "tweet" their menu. They also have a great website