Please, sir, I don’t want anymore…return of the junk in school dinners
Today is Christmas lunch day at schools in Walsall. Tuck into turkey and trimmings (including sprout purée, although I’m fairly certain it isn’t meant to be puréed) and Christmas pud.
Unless you happen to be veggie (and not really vegetarian, either). For today, your Christmas meal will be the delightfully unfestive breaded small fry.
Merry bloomin’ Christmas to you, too.
A bit of effort would have been nice. Even a Quorn fillet as “pretend” turkey would have been good. After all, the authority uses the mycoprotein in other dishes for non-meat eaters throughout the year.
What would Jamie Oliver think?[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=school+dinner&iid=3407920″ src=”b/3/8/c/Awards_Room_At_d08a.jpg?adImageId=8340050&imageId=3407920″ width=”234″ height=”343″ /]
He spent months campaigning to get local authorities to ditch the junk – the turkey twizzlers, the smiley faces, the processed rubbish that required heating up and no skills.
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Instead, he called for wholesome dishes: more meat and two veg; more pasta with homemade sauces; risotto; homemade burgers with salad. It was as cheap to produce as the junk, but better for the children – and for the cooks who could use their aptitude in the kitchen once more.
Out with junk
Walsall embraced this in September 2008. Out went the pressed-into-shapes cheap meats, the chips, the waffles and smileys. It blazed a trail. Approximately 15 per cent of youngsters in the borough are overweight, of whom four per cent are obese.
Something had to be done – and schools were in a good position to contributing towards a healthier borough.
Salad bars started to appear in schools, menus were devised that were not only healthier, but looked good and tasted good (nutritious vegetable curries; spag bol with hidden veg; pizza with homemade tomato sauce and more hidden veg).
In with junk?
But, a few weeks ago I spotted something: what was this? Waffles? Smiley faces? Sausage rolls? Back on the menu? Why would this happen?
The number of free school meals is rising in the town – there are now 4,620 children receiving free meals.
According to the report, Walsall Council Leader, Councillor Mike Bird said: “As a borough we have been particularly hard hit by the recession. A good nutritious meal at school is sometimes the only warm meal some children will have.”
That’s right, Mike. The only warm meal some children will have.
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The authority serves about 7,000-8,000 meals a day. Isn’t it important, therefore, that the authority ensures the maximum nutrients per school meal? Wholewheat pasta bake? Good quality meat and well cooked vegetables? Filling rice dishes? Warming baked potatoes and a filling?
I was given a list of stats that showed the analysis of a three-week menu cycle, showing the proportion of key nutrients. It appeared to show that iron, vitamin A, fibre, protein, folic acid levels exceeded recommended guidelines over the three-week cycle.
I’m not a nutritionist, but I did wonder why the analysis was not per meal, rather than an overarching view over three weeks. And does the nutritional value depend on what a child has chosen from that day’s particular menu?
But why processed smileys? Why processed waffles? Aren’t we reversing the good work of the past 18 months?
Apparently it is because pupils from ten schools were invited to suggest which food they would like to see on the menu. And – guess what? Smileys and waffles were requested.
The man who says “yes”
Guess what? The council said yes.
Chris Holliday, head of leisure and culture for Walsall Council said: “We’re always looking at ways of making school menus more appealing and nutritious. The menus for schools in Walsall meet all of the 14 nutrient standards for an average school lunch.
“We approached the manufacturers who were able to produce a waffle which is not flash-fried and can be served in compliance with the nutritional based standards. The smiley faces are flash-fried but we’re allowed within the standards to serve two flash fried items per week.
“Both items are oven baked with no additional fat. Waffles appear once and smiley faces twice in a three week cycle but children are offered a potato and bread option.
“We have at least two choices of vegetables that are provided each day and children can eat as many portions of vegetables and salad as they wish.”
Headteachers and cabinet members, however, were not consulted. I was told this was because the authority used a recognised nutritional programme and is guided by the School Food Trust.
One school cook I spoke to was concerned about the number of pastry dishes on the menus and the odd combinations of foods that are considered “balanced” by the authority.
Carb-busting cheese and potato pie and smiley faces anyone? Pizza and roast potatoes? Where’s the balance in that? (And why, while we are at it, are spaghetti hoops and beans – both carbs – considered to be be vegetables?)
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Can I have more? No thanks.
We have a duty to offer the best food we can afford to our children in the borough. If it is the only hot meal they are having a day, then for goodness sake make it wholesome tasting and looking. And get rid of the junk once and for all.