School dinners get fresh

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School dinners have been in the spotlight as concerns grow about our kids’ health. In the latest of our series about Lancashire’s eating habits, CATHERINE MUSGROVE goes behind the scenes at a school kitchen.

“We were already well ahead of the game when Jamie Oliver decided to look at school meals, we hadn’t served turkey twizzlers for years”, said Linda Fletcher, catering operations manager for Preston.

School meals for eating feature Moor Nook Community Primary School

School meals for eating feature Moor Nook Community Primary School

“It set us back two or three years in terms of parents’ confidence in what we were preparing though.”

Now parents are being invited to sample what their children are eating at special events during the school day, and also after classes finish.

They can also get involved in pre-ordering meals with their parents for the week or term ahead, to ensure children at the back of the queue get what they want.

Every primary school in Lancashire now prepares all its own food from scratch, and much of the produce is sourced locally, including cheese from Garstang, fruit and vegetables from Fulwood, eggs from Leyland, and chicken from Blackpool.

The local authority has also begun to introduce a ‘superior menu’, which is currently available at Moor Nook Primary School, Ribbleton Hall Drive, and Broughton-in-Amounderness Church of England Primary School.

Linda said: “All the food is made fresh and the portions are bigger. At Moor Nook we offer a carvery every Thursday, and there are always three choices of main meal and two choices for desert.”

During a visit to Moor Nook Primary last week, children were queuing up for the likes of roast beef carvery, apple pie and custard and cookies.

On other days, the choice includes a roast vegetable lasagne and garlic dough balls, gammon and pineapple, served with new potatoes, chicken and ham pie and club sandwiches.

Linda added: “We work very hard with nutritionists to make sure that every meal we produce has the correct nutrients in it for the children.

“Every school also has a salad bar that children can go to as many times as they want, and there’s also fresh, homemade bread they can have if they still want filling up.”

She added: “The staff in all of our kitchens all work very hard and they do really enjoy making things like homemade sauces and homemade breads. I think in the past they’ve come in for unfair criticism.”

Linda said that at least 50 per cent of schoolchildren in Lancashire have school meals, with the uptake in less affluent areas typically more.

Last week, Nicki Ayres, of Moor Nook, enjoyed a school meal with her children Brady Worthington, six, and Millie Worthington, five.

Nicki said: “It’s nice that parents are invited in to see what the children are eating, and I’m really impressed.

“I have absolutely no worries over what is provided and the kids seem to like the choice too.”

Parent Jackie Shepherd, 22, of Moor Nook, added: “We used to get loads of hard mash when we were at school, and it was pretty horrible.

“It made me wonder what the children were eating now, but having tasted it, I’m relieved.”

From September, all pupils in England will receive free lunches for their first three years in school.

The Government-funded scheme is aimed at improving academic attainment and saving families money – over the course of a year the average family spends £437 on school lunches per child.