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School food has never been in better shape
LACA’s National School Meals Week roadshow demonstrated that school food has never been in better shape. However, new LACA chair Stephen Forster has highlighted three priorities to improve the school food situation further
This year’s National School Meals Week celebrated all that is good about school food as LACA embarked on a road trip across England and Wales that took in all ten of LACA’s regions. Our tour invited parents, journalists, and the wider public to ‘taste for themselves’ modern day school food, served by our School Chef of The Year 2019, Stephen Cross.
With the General Election campaign underway we were also joined by six prospective parliamentary candidates, including former Cabinet Secretary James Brokenshire and Labour candidates such as Melanie Onn and Alex Cunningham.
LACA’s nationwide tour promoted some of the less well-known facts about school lunches, tackled outdated perceptions and demonstrated to the widest possible audience just how good today’s school meals really are. Each stop on our journey delivered a different message on issues of importance in the provision of school food.
School caterers are having to adapt to the increase in vegan diets, the move towards the use of certified sustainable palm oil, how the industry supports local farmers and how to safely cater for pupils with food allergies. The regional aspect of our tour demonstrated how school meals help support local economies by sourcing supplies, wherever possible, from local farms and food manufacturers.
Our ‘taste for yourself’ menu aimed to showcase the delicious range of meals that are now available in schools across the country. Meals that were served and enjoyed by our guests included vegetarian sweet and sour with rice, blackened Cajun fish, chicken quesadilla and sausage and bean casserole.
Visitors also tucked into a salad bar which offered carrots, beetroot and tomato pasta salad. For those who had room, apple and toffee mousse and gluten free berry crumble were available as dessert. Where possible, local suppliers were sourced for our roadshow menu, ensuring that fresh and healthy meals were on offer, reflecting the mission of school caterers to provide healthy, hot, sustainable and nutritious meals to all pupils.
Innovation in the food sector
In addition to promoting school meals, the National School Meals Week roadshow saw LACA stop off at important sites across the country that are encouraging innovation in the food sector. This included Harper Adams University which is tackling the future development of the planet’s food production and Allergy UK who are promoting the importance of allergen awareness, a mission that LACA, and everyone involved in the school food industry, takes incredibly seriously.
Stephen Forster, our National Chair, launched LACA’s Million Miles initiative during National School Meals Week at Lumley Junior School in County Durham, where he is the Chair of Governors. This school has pledged to be an ‘Active 30’ school, meaning that their staff focus on reducing sedentary behaviour and increasing physical activity in pupils outside of the timetabled curriculum. Pupils take part in moderate to vigorous activity every morning before lessons.
Christine Hodgson, the school’s PE lead, said she was “delighted to support” Stephen in LACA’s initiative, explaining that teachers believe that a daily mile has “a positive impact on pupils’ concentration, with many feeling more settled in lessons and ready to learn”.
The Million Miles initiative aims to promote the link between good food and physical activity by encouraging children and staff within the school food industry to walk one mile each day. We aim to have a million miles recorded by the time of LACA’s Main Event in July 2020.
Three priorities for school food
The end of National School Meals Week marked three months since Stephen took over as Chair of LACA, and in that time he has set out three priorities. His first priority is raising awareness about allergens. Under Stephen’s leadership, LACA has been spearheading the Allergens Working Group which aims to educate the school food industry about the importance of managing allergens.
We have already seen success, with the Department for Education including allergen awareness in the school food standards.
LACA’s second priority is making the case for retaining and expanding Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM). We will continue to call for the funding for these meals to be raised at least in line with inflation and for UIFSM to be extended to all Key Stage 2 pupils in England.
LACA’s third key priority is reducing childhood obesity. In June 2018 the government said that they wanted to halve childhood obesity by 2030, but this can only be achieved if children are provided with a hot, healthy and nutritious meal every day.
LACA is consulting with the Department for Education on their updated School Food Standards which are likely to focus on a reduction in sugar consumption and an increase in fibre. Following the December General Election, LACA will be working with the new government to ensure that its messages are heard, and that the government continues to make progress on allergens, UIFSM and reducing childhood obesity.
As our National School Meals Week roadshow demonstrated, school food has never been in better shape, with wide variety and choice that caters for specific dietary needs and eclectic menu offerings that are regularly changed and updated.
LACA has been at the forefront of this improvement and will continue to work to improve school meals across the industry.