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Why these pupils ‘wouldn’t change a thing’ about their school dinners

PUBLISHED: 12:03 15 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:01 15 November 2018

Albert Antu, Lillie-Mae, Riley Rallings enjoying their school dinner Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

Albert Antu, Lillie-Mae, Riley Rallings enjoying their school dinner Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

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Catering staff at Ravenswood Primary School are serving up 225 hot lunches every day - and an increasing number of those are tailored for children suffering from fish, milk and gluten intolerances.

Balancing this with the need to offer healthy, varied meals can be tough but this week the pupils from the school, in Ravenswood Avenue, Ipswich, gave their meals the thumbs up as they celebrated National School Meals week.

The week, which runs until tomorrow, is dedicated to promoting the quality and the value of the hot cooked meals made in schools every day.

Student Emma, 10, feels her school lunches are well thought out and said: “I like hot lunch because the cooks put a lot of time into them which makes them even more delicious. They plan it out so well that there is really nothing that I would like to change.”

Reception tucking into their lunch during National School Meals week Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSReception tucking into their lunch during National School Meals week Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

School councillor Jack agreed, he said: “I like the school dinners because when you go to get your food you can pick between two different things. There isn’t anything I would change it is pretty good already.”

Eleanor, who is eight, added: “I like the school dinners because they are always good and they are always really healthy for you.”

The meals are provided by primary school food brand Eats which is owned by Vertas. They supply a large range of food with six menus - three for winter and three for summer. The menus work on a three week rota meaning each week there are different options for the children to try. Ravenswood is currently in its first three weeks of the winter menu, they will then switch back to the summer menus at Easter.

Lucas and Jacob tell me their favourite things on the menu - watch the video to find out more Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSLucas and Jacob tell me their favourite things on the menu - watch the video to find out more Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

Kerri Powell, head of kitchen at the school, has seen a rise in the demand for meals that cater for allergies and intolerances.

She said: “There are a lot more allergies coming through and different options are needed for different people. A lot of the stuff coming through now is gluten free, I have quite a big list of allergies which I have to check every day.

“There are fish allergies, I’ve got a lot of milk allergies, obviously we have a few kids with nut allergies. But we don’t have anything in that contains nuts anyway.”

Mrs Powell admitted the children can be reluctant to try more exotic options when they first appear on the menu, and that traditional options are still the most popular.

“Sometimes if there is a new sweet and sour chicken for them to try or maybe a new curry mixture and they are sometimes a bit wary. But we do a third option here, where we offer the children jacket potatoes so if they don’t like what’s on the menu they can order that.

“The children tend to really like a Friday which is fish and chip day, and one of our busiest days is Thursday which is roast dinner day. They also quite like the pizzas and the different burgers we have on the menu now.”

A development chef designs the menus and ensures the children have a balanced diet taking into account how much protein and vegetables they are having.

Mrs Powell, who has worked at the school for 10 years, has recipe cards to follow for each of the dishes.

She said: “I get a big menu pack sent to me so I then go through that when I do my ordering. It is quite strict that you follow the menu because everything has got an allergy sheet which parents can access online so then they know what ingredients are in everything and I know what ingredients are in everything.”

School councillors Emma, Alfie, Jack, Eleanor, Aluna, and Josh  Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSSchool councillors Emma, Alfie, Jack, Eleanor, Aluna, and Josh Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

The school currently has more pupils requesting hot dinners than those bringing their own packed lunches.

Katrina Chisholm, who is deputy head at Ravenswood, explains how teachers help and educate the children on what is on the lunch menu before they agree to have it.

“What we try to do in the classroom is talk through the menu. When the children start school all the teachers will have the menus in their classrooms and they will let them know what is happening each day and what choices they have.

Christine Bennison and Kerri Powell kitchen staff at Ravenswood Community Primary School Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSChristine Bennison and Kerri Powell kitchen staff at Ravenswood Community Primary School Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

“Then the children have some idea what to choose because that is normally the hardest part, and we do encourage the parents to see what we have as well so they can talk about it at home.

“Once they are in the dinner hall they are supported in getting their trays and lining up and seeing what’s on offer, they have the choice, and cook is ever so patient with letting the children choose.

“There is a choice with which vegetables too and on top of that there is a salad bar with cold pasta and chunks of cucumber and bits of bread, familiar things for the children to have in bite-sized pieces.

Head of kitchen Kerri Powell and Christine Bennison with the 180 burgers they prepared Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSHead of kitchen Kerri Powell and Christine Bennison with the 180 burgers they prepared Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

“This encourages them to have a good balanced diet and have that something they are going to enjoy and definitely eat, as well as trying something new that they maybe aren’t so sure of.”

Key stage one - those aged four to seven - get free school dinners, those in key stage two - from seven upwards - pay £2.30 per meal.

Ms Chisholm explained that the majority of those in key stage one take up the opportunity of a free school meal.

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