Monday, November 30, 2009

The horrors of product placement

Best selling author Chris Cleave has written a brilliant and funny account of what product placement could look like. Do give it a read by clicking here and then rush to send your consultation response in by clicking here. The clock is ticking and the sneaky way the government are handling this mean we are now half way through consultation period.

The wonderful Green Wing writer, James Henry has also spoken out against product placement. I heartily recommend his blog to you.

Don't need dinner ladies - employ a chef according to Daily Mail

"employing an experienced chef saves the time and trouble it takes to retrain dinner ladies accustomed to reheating junk food."

Interesting article in the Daily Mail which manages to attack jamie Oliver and derides School Food Trust attemepts to improve school food and yet still celebrate good wholesome food in schools. It is about the remarkable achievents of BBC Radio 4 Food and farming award winner John Rankin at Penair School in Cornwall

See for yourself here

School does sound amazing! Wonder if I could arrange a visit?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Merton Council Children and Young Person Plan 2010

I spent yesterday morning with key staff from Merton Childrens's services and members of voluntary groups being consulted on the priorities for children and young people. The authority have to produce a plan which they publish.

One of their key priorities is reducing obesity. Merton's rates are above avaerage. As you would expect I made the case for Merton to ensure every secondary school student will have the time and space to eat a meal every day which is both tasty and freshly prepared. There was no disagreement but there was no clear agreement on how we make that happen. Tom Proctor was there from the contracts department and I know he is really doing his bit to ensure we get better food provision but the elephant in the room was how we persuade the Heads to look at their timetabling so all kids get a chance to eat in a civivlised way.

After we finished we had a lovely lunch and of course we had a table and chair for each person, enough time to eat and we didn't have to choose between eating or going to see a collegue. The food did n't run out and nobody made us stand in line for 15 mins. How different from a secondary school lunch at a Merton school!

The next step for us is to produce a written submission for the Childrens and young person plan to see if we can get our secondary school aims enshrined. We are meeting with the contracts department on friday 4 Dec to look at the timetable for going out to tender for a new catering company. We now have governors from each of the secondary schools who are deeply unhappy with the food to come on to a secondary school sub committee. 2010 is going to be the year Merton secondary school meals get dramatically better.

We are going to have to return to some good old fashioned campaigning to speed things up! Please join us by clicking here

If you have any points you would like us to raise about any Merton School dinner issue, primary or secondary, let me know by Thursday 3 Dec.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Todays school dinner

No time to comment today as I need to get ready for tonights Merton Parents committee meeting

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

One filmakers response to product placement (NB This clip is not suitable for children contains bad language)

Edublog awards 2009

I am nominating Stepahie Woods at School Food Matters for best new blog for Edublog 2009 awards

Stephanie does a great job flying the fact for real food education and uses the sfm blog to spread the word and to bring people together.

Fingers crossed the nice people at edublog agree!

Green Wing writer stands up against product placement

Thank you for the feedback on yesterdays post. Turns out I need to go back to the drawing board re the vlog and sort out sound levels!

Meanwhile I wanted to tell you about a blog I found from the writer of The Green Wing. Turns out he thinks product placement is a horrible idea. please read his original post here.

I contacted him after reading this and he very kindly blogged again on the subject directing people who object to the Childrens Food Campaign website

This campaign has brought me into contact with all sorts of people I wouldn't normally meet. Whilst cooking dinner I got a call from the US Guild of Writers. They are bitterly opposed to product placement as they have first hand experience of the interference and pressure it brings. They are very kindly going to give us a statement about their experiences and encourage everyone to oppose it.

I know this seems a long way from school dinners but one of the big problems we have is the pernicious affect advertising has on childrens expectations of food. If children are constatntly bombarded with marketing and advertising for high fat, salt and sugar foods we shouldn't be surprised that good food education and health promotion iniatives such as Change 4 life fail to get through.

Am teaching in school tomorrow so will post some new pictures of school dinners.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My first vlogg

If you don't want to see product placement on UK TV click here to send a message to the government. Once you have done that please can you send the link to your friends and colleagues?

Many thanks!

Friday, November 20, 2009

The" Really Good School Dinner" campaign launches in Sheffield

Below is a press release from The School Food Trust about an inspired initiative to raise money from our UK school dinners to be able to buy a school dinner for a child in the developing world.Would your school be interested in doing this? If you are a headteacher this would be a great example of "community cohesion " that you could cite on your SEF whilst also delivering some excellent PSHE lessons! Have a read and let me know if you would like to take it further.

A Sheffield school today led the way nationally in a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) partnership campaign in the fight to end world hunger. Tapton School is trailblazing the Really Good School Dinner campaign ahead of its national live week in January 2010, having raised over £330 in 10 pences for the cause already.

Sheffield City Council Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Lifelong Learning Cllr. Andrew Sangar, joined pupils for lunch at Tapton School in Sheffield to urge schools across the UK to sign up for the Really Good School Dinner, where for one week in January 2010, each time a pupil buys a school meal, they donate an extra 10 pence. This is enough to buy a whole school meal for a child in a developing country, and by consequence, an education. Many such children otherwise have to work to feed themselves.

Schools across the country are now being invited to register to take part by clicking here

Year 10 student, Akram Ahmed, who contributed the first 10p of the day, said: "I've donated my money because every six seconds people are dying in poorer countries. People are also dying from obesity in this country and school meals are healthy food, so the Really Good School Dinner is helping people here as well as in less developed countries."

Cllr. Sangar, added: “I know that the charity was overwhelmed with the enthusiasm of the Tapton children so I’m delighted that they have been chosen to lead the campaign nationally. It makes me proud that a Sheffield school has set an example for children across the rest of the country to follow next year.”

The Really Good School Dinner is a partnership campaign between The School Food Trust and the WFP, in which school children are invited to buy one, give one free. Every 10p donated by children goes to the WFP’s School Meals Programme. At the same time the campaign encourages children in this country to enjoy school lunches, which are now governed by nutritional standards, guaranteeing pupils a healthy meal.

Tapton School Headteacher, Mr David Bowes, commented: "As a healthy school, we take it very seriously and encourage pupils to make the right choices in what to eat. So it seemed absolutely right to take part in the Really Good School Dinner. It makes youngsters think not just about their own health but about others who are less fortunate.

"Our pupils are very blessed to go home and go to bed having eaten. It is so important for them to understand that many other children won't get an education if they don't eat. We will do all we can to raise their awareness of this issue.

"The campaign is a huge education vehicle for schools and is so easy to do. It brings together issues within so many subjects, such as maths, geography, science, economics and PHSE."

In support of the Really Good School Dinner, Nick Clegg, Leader of Liberal Democrats and MP for Sheffield Hallam said: “I think the campaign is an excellent way of raising money to feed hungry children across the world but also raising awareness amongst young people about people less fortunate than themselves.

“What better place to teach the next generation that every child has a right to healthy meals and a good education. Good luck in raising as much money as possible and I hope the lunch is a great success.”

Really Good School Dinner is open to any school in England. School Food Trust Chief Executive Judy Hargadon said: “This campaign highlights two hugely important issues: the importance to children’s well-being in the UK of eating a healthy school lunch and the increasing problem of world food insecurity.

“The enthusiasm by participating schools during the first Really Good School Dinner was amazing. Taking part is easy, good fun and addresses these important issues, so I encourage schools to join in and help make this Really Good School Dinner an unprecedented success.”

The first Really Good School Dinner in January 2009 saw more than 118,000 school dinners eaten by children in schools around the country, raising a total of £11,855 for WFP.

Caroline Hurford, spokesperson for the World Food Programme, commented: "Thanks to the Really Good School Dinner, more than 100,000 children have already eaten healthy school meals. We're hopeful that we can feed even more children following the next campaign. The fullest physical and intellectual development must be the right of every child."

Participating schools receive an information pack including lesson plans, international recipes, case studies, campaign posters and more.

Some school food pictures

Apologies for the poor quality of some of the photos but I was keen for you to see our lovely mid day supervisors enjoying a school lunch. They have to pay for them - it's not a perk! but they were keen to support national school meals week.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I had a great day on Saturday at the Warrington Governors conference. I spoke on behalf of The School Food Trust about the role governors can play in sorting out school lunches.

I was really impressed with the dedication and determination of the governors who turned up. It is a pretty thankless job being a school governor yet up and down the land there are lots of unsung heroes who play a key role in helping schools get their act together.

There was a very impressive speaker from HMI - David Moore who gave a brilliant presentation on community cohesion.

The key message I delivered in my speech can be summed up by the following quote from Henry Ford

"Most people will spend more time and energy in going around problems than in trying to solve them."

Lots of schools spend an enormous amount of time responding to problems based on an inadequate lunch time provision. The time and energy they spend on dealing with behaviour management , policing the lunch break, sorting out problems, dealing with poor concentration in afternoon lessons etc is greater than the time and energy needed to sort out providing a decent lunchtime experience.

However difficult the problems facing your school at lunchtime the School Food Trust has resources to help!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thank you!

Just back from a visit to St Thomas of Canterbury school where there was a special NFU workshop going on for the lucky year 4 children. The workshop was part of a special presentation for ISS Caterhouse who have achieved Food for Life Partnership Bronze award for the catering in all of Merton's primary schools. Congratulations to Mark Davis from Iss who has pushed this through. It was most heartening to hear him say that he is already working on how they are going to achieve silver status. It was great to see a senior councillor and staff from Merton Council there. Fantastic to see everyone working together on this.

Final thank you of course must go to all the school cooks in Merton. Thank you so much for all your hard work. It can't be the easiest job in the world and we have have asked you to make some very big changes. Thanks for sticking with it and for making sure that every child has the opportunity to eat a tasty school lunch.

Am off to Warrington in a minute where I will be speaking at a school governors conference on the importance of food in school. Enjoy the last day of National School Meal Week!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The three new Board members for the School Food Trust

• Margaret Barrett – a Managing Director of the Cambridge Development Partnership working with organisations in the public and private sector. Margaret began her career as a Home Economics teacher, has several years experience as a university lecturer, and has also held senior positions in the NHS.
“Serving on the board of the SFT will allow me to use my experience in Management, Health and Education to improve the health and well being of young people. Contributing to the agenda to improve school food and life time food education is a privilege I look forward to."

• Dr James Bunn – a general paediatrician with a long term interest in nutrition, who has worked in the UK and internationally.
“As a doctor looking after children in both hospital and in the community, I hope to bring my clinical experience to the Board. There are many long term benefits of developing healthy eating habits during childhood, and the school has a pivotal role in promoting this.”

Fiona Gately – a senior executive with over 20 years experience in marketing for the food industry and an adviser on food and health issues. She now manages advocacy campaigns around food issues for business and public sector clients.
“The challenge over the last three years has been to get the new standards in place, so our kids are getting the balanced meals they need. The challenge for next three years will be to get more children to eat them, and to make food a central part of the school culture and kids’ education.”

I am looking forward to meeting them. In the meantime if anyone has any ideas about who can take over from Prue as Chair - please send them to look at the job ad here

National School Meal Week

Sorry for the delay in posting. Have had horrible internet problem which has stopped me from blogging.

The week got off to a great start got with a visit to Dundonald primary School so I could give an assembly to celebrate national school meals week. The children were very attentive and fascinated by my slides of school dinners from days of old. They were also incredibly interested in the pictures of school meals from different countries and were surprisingly good at matching the dinner to the country. Mrs Duffy, the head teacher does a great job of promoting school meals and including as much cooking and growing as she can into the school year. The children were all remarkably well behaved from the smallest reception class to the mature year 6 children.

On Tuesday The Children's Food campaign hosted a round table on how we could get every school to teach food growing. Lots of big organisations supported our aim of getting food growing on the school curriculum. Merton parents has always believed that real and genuine food education will make it easier to persuade children to eat more of the foods that are good for them. Stephanie from School Food Matters was able to show us some pictures from a great project she has set up connecting an inner city school with no growing space with Westminster Cathedral garden. Sign up to her blog if you want to follow their progress.

Today Wednesday I went to the "Health and Well Being Conference in Birmingham NEC." where I gave a presentation on how to work with parents. I got the chance to listen to secondary Head, Marcia Tweltree give a fantastic presentation on how she dramaically improved lunchtimes at her school. Re aranging the timetable so every child gets a 30 min break has been key to her achievements. Marcia is a fantastic speaker who tells it warts and all. I personally think that every secondary school head and senior management team in the land should be made to watch this presentation! One of my next Merton parent website projects is to work out how we can put up a selection of good powerpoint presentations to share with other Heads/governors/caterers

Another highlight today was the opportunity to meet Arnold Fewell - the brains behind this years National School Meals Week. We have been in regular contact via twitter but today was the first time we had met in person. I think he has done a remarkable job of bringing LACA into the 21st century.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

New website

We have been working for a while on updating the Merton Parents for better Food in School website. It is now respectable enough to be seen but still needs some work! Plaese have a look by clicking here and then give me your feedback.

The original website was done by Angus Deuchar. He had children at Holy Trinity and came forward at one of our early meetings to offer his services. He very modestly offered to set up a website for us, "unless we could get someone else better to do it" His kind offer led to him spending hours and hours at his computer and nearly 4 years as a committee member. His work on the website was a crucial weapon in the early days of spreading our campaigning to all of the Merton schools. The existence of the website meant that we had a huge number of journalists on national papers following our progress. We would never have got the coverage we did without Angus. So big, big thank you! I am so sad to see him stand down from the committee and appreciate all his hard work.

The new website has been designed by Juliet Blackledge who also designed our lovely Merton Parent logo.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Eating from prison trays

It still amazes me when I see children expected to eat their lunch from horrible plastic prison style trays. We had a big argument about this in London Borough of Merton back in 2005/6.

Below is an article I wrote back then to persuade every school to change over. The kids comments are really interesting!If anyone is interested I have written a paper aimed at Headteachers/Govs to persuade them why they should make the change.Contact me if you want a copy.

Fears about replacing flight trays.

"I would not want to eat out of a prison tray. Would you? So why do we think it’s the right thing for children?"
Prue Leith, Chair of the School Food Trust

In 2006 the London Borough of Merton replaced flight trays with a simple plain black tray and white plates and bowls. Some schools had a number of concerns:

“But the children like flight trays”:

Undoubtedly some of the children were happy to eat from flight trays and did n’t see getting rid of them as a priority. They had become so common place in schools and we know that some children find change unsettling. However as schools the changes they began to report that most children preferred the replacement plates as it makes them feel less “babyish”. The vast majority of the children consulted by Merton Parents for Better food in Schools over this issue were happy to use plates with only a small minority preferring flight trays.

Here are some of the children’s comments:

I don't like the plastic trays at school because they look a bit grungy and dirty. I prefer to eat my dinner off a plate which has been cleaned properly and doesn't have knife cuts in it. They make you feel like you're in hospital and the food tastes of plastic. You wouldn't expect to eat off a tray in a cafe or restaurant so why would you at school.
Yr 6 Pupil

The trays were disgusting – there was often old bits of food on them as they weren’t washed properly and then our food was put on top of that. It was difficult to use your knife and fork in the little holes.”
Luke, aged 8

I would rather have a normal plate because the food gets all mushed up on the
trays - especially the main course - because there is not enough room. It
also makes me feel quite babyish.
Ceridwen, age 11

"Eating from the trays is like eating from dog bowls"
Harriet, aged 11

You can get more food onto a plate. You get bowls for pudding. It is more like at home.
Thomas, aged 9

“The plastic trays were grubby and dirty...the food looks much nicer on the china plates”
Lewis, age 8

“ I found it disturbing having your pudding next to your dinner. I prefer real plates.”
Ryan, year 5

I prefer real plates – its more hygienic and you feel more homey, (normal)
Sophia, year 5

“When we had trays I used to see people eating their pudding before their dinner.I prefer to use plates. I think other schools should use plates like you do at home.

Natasha, year 5
“The food looks nicer if you have it on a plate.”
Dom, aged 10

Plastic food trays are for babies.
James Richardson, year 8

“Our Children won’t manage.”

Some schools feared that children wouldn’t cope with carrying a plate. Initially children needed help and guidance from mid day supervisors in making the change over but most learnt how to manage quickly. Schools are used to teaching children new skills so this was no different. Interestingly many special schools outside the borough but attended by Merton pupils (including a residential visual impairment unit, Linden Lodge, and a specialist school for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders). Forum School, Dorset ) use plates and bowls to create a civilised pleasant dining room. Some schools in Merton have taken the decision to allow the youngest children to use flight trays but others use plates through out the school

Here are some comments from mid day supervisors:

“Having supervised at school during lunchtime I have seen firsthand the huge improvement of the children’s table manners where they now have plates and bowls rather than those ridiculous trays. The children use their knives and forks correctly – the trays made this difficult so they inevitably used their fingers. Many children used to complain that some of their pudding was mixed in with their dinner.The whole dining experience has greatly improved.”
Mid day Supervisor and teaching assistant, Di Williams, Poplar Primary School

I ate the Christmas dinner and there is no way I would have done if the food had been served on one of those impersonalised plastic trays. I did have to witness and help to clear up many 'mixed dinners' on the flight/prison trays. The children were distressed when it happened and nothing similar has occurred since the change over to plates.
Mid day Supervisor and teaching assistant, Poplar Primary Emma Harper

A good reason for getting rid of prison style trays,
is the food can become mixed up when being served and this obviously is
very unappetising.
Parent and former mid day supervisor, Sandra Beale

I was a mid-day supervisor for 8 years, over which time the dinnertime team were constantly appalled at the quality of the food served up and the way in which it was presented. The issue of the quality of the food has now been addressed so surely the logical next step in order to completed the transition to a civilised lunchtime experience for the children, which in some cases may be the only time they sit down at a table with other people to eat, must be the way the food is presented... on a plate!
Linda Ludlow, teaching assistant Poplar Primary School

“It creates extra washing up

Yes it did. However many catering staff reported that it was much easier to clean plates and bowls than flight trays. Even staff who were nervous about making the change reported back that it did not lead to an increase in time. Staff found it easier to serve the food directly on to plates than filling up compartments on flight trays. It reduced the problem of puddings and main courses getting splashed over each other.

“The plates and bowls are easier to wash than the flight trays. They are also easier to serve the food on to.”
School Cook, Hatfeild Primary Celia Kelly

It is very encouraging to see the move back to plates and bowls to serve school lunches and I particularly welcome the return of white plates as it certainly displays food to its best advantage. Plates and bowls certainly bring a more homely atmosphere to lunchtimes
The flight trays may have been suitable at the time they were introduced but they have certainly outlived their usefulness.
ISS Caterhouse area manager, Merton , Roger Denton

Views from teaching staff

We made the switch from the “prison – style” trays mainly because it made the food look so unappetising. Having the main meal next to the dessert was unappealing. We have haven’t experienced any significant difficulties making the move to plates. The children took a little while to adjust to the new plates sliding on the trays that they are now using. The children prefer the plates and we have seen a big improvement in their table manners.
Deputy Head, Hatfeild Primary Stuart Atherton

I have seen an improvement in the way the children behave in the dinning hall since they have started using plates. As always we encourage children to be respectful to each other as well as to adults, but we equally need to show children respect in the way we treat them. This can be shown through the equipment that we give them to use!! If we give them plates we are giving a positive message that we value them and we value what they eat and that they are important to us.
Teacher, Poplar Primary School Wendy Ellis

Views from parents.

“Its not just about getting the food right – as important as that is – but children need to learn how to eat a meal properly, with a knife and fork, off a proper plate in a pleasant dining environment. Making them eat off these horrid plastic trays is giving a false impression of a real meal and making it more difficult for the children to enjoy their food and learn good habits for the future.
Parent Governor, Poplar Primary School, Paula Sutcliff

I am often appalled by the lack of table manners and basic skills in using cutlery. I believe that using the proper tools for a meal, i.e. a plate, knife, fork and spoon, is fundamental in teaching our children how to eat properly. I cannot bear to see children who appear to be completely lost it they need to actually cut something on their plate. Also, carrying a plate should not be difficult for children who are old enough to eat school meals.
Basically, I think that children eating at school should use the same utensils that they should be using at home.
Parent, Hatfeild Primary School, Dia Garrido

The trays reminded me of the plates used for toddlers - surely by primary school we want to encourage children to adopt more 'grown-up' eating habits. The trays give the impression of serving of 'rations' rather than a nutritious, appealing meal.
Parent, Julie Johns, Richards Secondary School

My personal feeling is that you give them a trough, they'll eat like pigs- , they will live down to our expectations, it's to do with convenience, a bit like factory farming. However if you treat them like they are worthy of effort, with proper plates, maybe even calming music, they they will live up to our expectations, enjoy their meals, feel valued, and hopefully in return, value the effort from those who have provided for them.
Parent, Wimbledon Park Primary, Ali Keen

Both my boys go to Wimbledon Park Primary School where they have already replaced the trays with plates and both boys think this is much better so you are preaching to the converted, however the key issue for me is food quality and I would rather the school caterer spent money on improving food quality than the implements however I do agree that separate plates are a much better option.
Parent from Wimbledon Park Primary,Anne Davies

And the last word goes to Stephen Black - the contracts manager

We have found that since the introduction of trays, plates and bowls in the schools it has improved the presentation of the food to the children, they can see their food clearly and it encourages them to try to eat properly using knives and forks and helps to develop a calmer dining experience.
It is necessary to engage headteachers as younger children need more supervision and assistance at the the servery and to their table, midday supervisors have some involvement as the there are more dishes to be stacked in trolleys in the hall and catering staff also need extra time as there is more washing to be done. However it is now recognised within our schools that it has been a positive improvement for both children and staff and on the general dining experience.

Contracts Manager London Borough of Merton, Steve Black

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Early start today! Just finishing my presentation for a Good Food Training for London event "The Role of Food in Schools". Hoping my children don't spot me hunched over the computer as I am always on at them not to leave their homework to the last minute! Anyway, just have time to upload pictures of yesterdays school dinner.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Childrens obesity rates slowing done

According to National Heart Forum report childhood obesity rates are slowing down. This is great news! I am keen to know which of the interventions is responsible. The battle is not yet won so we must make sure we continue to campaign for good food and that we still protect kids from junk food industry. We still have a long way to go to get every child eating 5 portions of fruit and veg so the war isn't won yet. However this could be a good time to say thank you to dinner ladies, heads, school nurses, School Food Trust, PCT's and everyone else who has been instrumental in changing childrens diet.

Have a look at childrens food campaign press release

See what the School Food Trust say here

Monday, November 2, 2009

National School Meals Week 8th -13 Nov 2009

Its not too late too sign up. Visit the website to get your school involved