New recipe for schools success

STEWED rhubarb and semolina, anyone? Perish the thought!School dinners have changed a great deal since the old days of chips with everything and stodgy puds – and healthy eating is a top priority in 21st-century schools here in Suffolk.

By Judy Rimmer

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STEWED rhubarb and semolina, anyone? Perish the thought!

School dinners have changed a great deal since the old days of chips with everything and stodgy puds – and healthy eating is a top priority in 21st-century schools here in Suffolk.

However, Suffolk catering operations manager Valerie Bridgman said not everybody realises the amount of choice available and the priority given to healthy options – or the fact that food is freshly prepared each day.

"People think we have chips every day, but that isn't true. They are only served once a week, on Fridays. We offer a good balance with lots of things like fresh fruit, vegetables and salads, and comply with all the national guidelines."

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Mrs Bridgman travels around the Ipswich, Woodbridge and Felixstowe area to oversee the meals service at a number of schools, and she is full of praise for catering staff.

"I would much rather have a school meal than go to a greasy spoon café or cheap restaurant," she said. "I am very proud of the service we provide."

Gorseland Primary at Deben Avenue, Martlesham Heath, is among the Suffolk schools taking part in National School Meals Week 2002, which has taken the theme of healthy eating to promote the importance of fitness for the next generation.

Children have been taking part in fun activities, including filling in sheets with a variety of healthy eating quizzes and puzzles.

A special "food is fun" website has also been set up, encouraging children to Click to Get Fit. The site features a magic maze for primary school pupils and a cyber maze for those at secondary school.

The games introduce children to the world of nutrition, show the importance of eating five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, and explain the role of regular exercise and sport in keeping healthy. There is also a national competition to add to the fun.

Olympic decathlete Dean Macey has given his backing to this year's event nationwide, and Suffolk County Catering has come up with a special menu combining the themes of computers and sport.

Goodies on offer included go fasta pasta, www.affles, shot put peas and speedy sweetcorn – followed by computer crunch and cyber sauce, which looked rather similar to chocolate crunch!

Youngsters at Gorseland, where up to 300 dinners are served each day, queued up eagerly to taste the special meal, and were helped by catering staff to choose a balanced meal from the available options.

"We have a star choice system, so if there's a child who doesn't like vegetables, for instance, then they will go for fresh fruit and salad instead," said Mrs Bridgman.

"There is a choice of five different salads every day."

The meals are served by a cook-in-charge and two assistants, who all know the children well and get to know their likes and dislikes.

For instance, one pupil prefers to have his pasta and bolognaise sauce served separately!

However, primary school children are not allowed to just take meat and leave the fruit or veg. They have to have a balanced meal, and staff are good at encouraging them to try something new.

"All the primary schools stick to county menus which are checked by community dieticians who monitor the fat and carbohydrate content," she said.

At high schools, pupils have more choice about what to eat, but the menus are still governed to ensure that healthy options such as jacket potatoes are cheaper, and to make sure that a balanced meal is available for them.

Current guidelines advise that one-third of a child's daily intake for energy and 40pc of protein are provided in a school meal.

Suffolk's healthy eating policy means that recipes contain less sugar, less fat, less salt and more fibre than they did in the past.

Examples of a healthy menu include cheese and tomato pizza with mixed salad, stir-fry vegetables and jacket potato, or wheatmeal cheese flan, duchesse potatoes, spaghetti hoops in tomato sauce and mixed vegetables.

When chips are served, they are fried in vegetable oil, and puddings, including vegetarian jellies, are also prepared with health in mind.

Favourite desserts include pineapple upside-down pudding, homemade apple pie and iced gingerbread and lemon sauce.

Gorseland headteacher Alison Davies said: "The important thing is that the children love their school meals, and the fact that they are encouraged to eat healthily.

"It is nice to see the children sitting and eating together, and the little ones are helped to choose a good combination of foods."

FOOD FILE

n Up to 40,000 pupils tuck into meals served by Suffolk County Catering every day, at 343 schools

n The food is prepared and served by a team of more than 1500 cooks, catering managers and catering assistants

n Special menus are organised for various annual events such as Bonfire Night, harvest festival, and Christmas, plus one-offs like Italian and bookworm menus.

n Golden Jubilee, World Cup and seaside menus are lined up for later this year, all with competitions, stickers and fact sheets to add to the fun.

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