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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 11:01 GMT
Pupils profit from healthy meals
By Janet Murray

Pupils eating lunch
Pupils have a say in what goes on the menu
A primary school is proving that pupils can be served healthy, nutritious meals without straining the budget.

Children at Southdown Infants School in Bath enjoy tasty homemade meals such as roast turkey with fresh vegetables, chicken tikka masala, lasagne with salad and fresh fruit for pudding.

Vegetables are local, fresh and organic where possible. All meat is locally sourced and can be traced back to the farm.

Instead of crisps, chocolate and sweets, the tuck shop serves organic carrots, dried fruit and fresh seasonal fruit in bags for 10p, and about 100 are sold each day.

Concentration

Southdown's healthy eating initiative was launched four years ago with the start of a breakfast club.

Children were being fed turkey dinosaurs and fish stars
Head teacher Gill Culley
"We were becoming increasingly aware of the link between diet and concentration," said Gill Culley, head teacher at the school.

"Children's concentration and behaviour definitely improves after a good meal.

"We're also committed to giving children the social experience of eating together. The school is in an underprivileged area and some children weren't used to that."

The following year, the school opted out of the county-wide meal service and is now the only primary school in the area to take charge of its own catering.

"We were disappointed with the quality of the food on offer," said Ms Culley.

"It wasn't very healthy. Children were being fed turkey dinosaurs and fish stars. They couldn't even associate the food with what it actually was."

Hassle

Under the new catering arrangements, up to 75p per child is spent each day on ingredients - the national average is 42p - and meals cost 1.40, which is comparable with schools countrywide.

We work closely with schools and catering services to provide good quality food
Bath and North East Somerset council
The quality of school meals remains a hot topic in the education world.

A report published by the Soil Association - an organisation that promotes organic produce - claimed schools were dishing up "muck off a truck" that was high in fat, sugar and salt, which it is said can lead to high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease.

So why aren't more schools following Southdown's example? Ms Culley believes many think providing in-house catering will be "too expensive and too much hassle".

Head teachers of Southdown's neighbouring schools declined to comment on their choice of catering arrangements.

Responsibility

But a spokesperson for commercial and community services for Bath and North East Somerset council said: "Our schools are happy with the service we provide.

pupils being served lunch
We're talking about children's health here - that's not something to be taken lightly
Gill Culley
"We work closely with schools and catering services to provide good quality food and our menus are regularly checked by nutritionists.

"We use lots of locally supplied food and are involved in a number of initiatives to promote healthy eating in schools.

"But there is a lot of responsibility involved in school catering, such as carrying out risk assessments and hazards analysis.

"It's all very time consuming and schools are busy places. Many just don't have the time."

Ms Culley believes schools need to make the time.

"Yes, it's time consuming and you need total commitment from staff, parents and children, but we're talking about children's health here. That's not something to be taken lightly."

Profit

And far from eating into school budgets, providing in-house catering could actually free up funds, she said.

In April, a survey carried out by the Local Authority Caterers Association claimed up to 154m had been saved yearly from school meal budgets since 1994, but that the cash had not been spent on improving the catering.

But running the school catering services as a small business can produce profits that can be ploughed back into catering provision. The kitchen at Southdown is gradually being refurbished as more funds become available.

Improving school lunches is part of the school's wider commitment to educating children about healthy eating.

A consultant chef has worked with it to help develop new menus and train school cooks.

Taster sessions are held regularly, allowing pupils the opportunity to have their say.

A local supplier recently provided specially made mini-sausages so they could decide which kinds of sausages they would like on the menu. They finally settled on pork and apple.

Parental involvement

Pupils are also encouraged to find out more about where their food comes from by visiting a local farm.

Parents are also involved and are invited in to try school dinners on special occasions, such as Easter and Christmas. They can also pick up weekly deliveries of organic fruit and vegetables.

The efforts of staff, pupils and parents to creating a healthy eating environment were recognised earlier this month when the school was awarded the Soil Association's Best School Dinner award.

Ms Culley said: "We are delighted to win this award. The children love the meals and the cooks can be far more flexible and creative.

"Healthy eating is at the centre of everything we do. It's really rewarding to see so many children enjoy real food."




SEE ALSO:
School dinner choices 'unhealthy'
09 Nov 04 |  Education
School meals 'must be healthier'
28 Oct 04 |  Education
'Retro style' for school dinners
03 Nov 04 |  Education


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