Website to help schools improve food culture

A dedicated website for teachers to share ideas and practical tips on how to create a 'great school food culture' has been launched by the School Food Plan project.

The What Works Well website is one of a number of measures introduced under the School Food Plan, a plan of action commissioned by the Government to improve the quality and take-up of school meals.

Drawn up by Leon restaurant chain founders Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, the plan was published by the Department for Education last year.

The What Works Well website was launched last week ahead of the implementation of universal free school meals (FSM) to Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 pupils in September, a recommendation within the School Food Plan that received Government backing.

Developed with support from the Caterlink Foundation, which provides catering for hundreds of early years settings and schools, the website covers five areas - 'The food', 'The lunchtime experience', 'Learning about food', 'Making it happen' and 'Getting everyone involved.'

Each area features a number of good-practice case studies from schools, some of which are already providing universal free school meals (see box).

The case studies cover aspects such as delivering good-quality meals, reducing queues, learning to cook, managing contracts, getting a new kitchen and involving parents.

It is hoped that other schools will share their experiences and learn from success stories, along with providing support to primary schools preparing to deliver FSM to infants at the start of the autumn term.

The website also features resources and links to organisations that can provide support to schools, such as the Food for Life Partnership and the Children's Food Trust, which is running a dedicated implementation support service for schools preparing for the universal free school meals offer.

Myles Bremner, director of the School Food Plan, told Nursery World, 'The website highlights the great work of schools in creating nice environments and providing high-quality meals to pupils. For every challenge faced by a school, there is another school out there that has already found a solution.

'We currently have a couple of hundred case studies from schools and look forward to receiving more. We want to encourage other schools to come forward with case studies, pictures and videos to demonstrate their best practice, or even write down five tips on how to create a great school food culture on a Post-it note.'

Speaking at the launch of What Works Well, Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, authors of the original School Food Plan report, said, 'This marks another milestone in the successful delivery of the School Food Plan, in which we imagined a new golden age for school food. That dream is closer now than we could have hoped. It's down to all of us to make it a reality.'

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St Helena's, which has just 112 pupils, recently had a kitchen installed after years of having hot dinners taxied to it from the local secondary school.

Since building the new kitchen, the take-up of hot meals has increased, the school's lunchtime experience has been transformed and children are happier and have better concentration during lesson time, say teachers.

The installation of the kitchen, fitted in a three-cupboard space, has also helped prepare the school for the delivery of free meals for all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 from September.

Helen Brough, the school's business manager, said, 'We continually survey parents and children about what they enjoy and lunchtime has been flagged as an issue for a long time.

'Delivery of food to us from the local secondary school was very costly, the menu was limited and the food didn't travel well. It was a really disheartening process.'

Ms Brough says that the school's dream to have its own kitchen came true last year, thanks to the fundraising efforts of parents and the Schools Association, which raised £20,000.

The kitchen, which was built in ten weeks, has a capacity to produce 100-120 meals per day.

The school has also employed a cook who works 30 hours a week, with two midday supervisors helping to serve and wash up.

'We involved children in the whole process, including the development of our menus. We have a three-week rolling menu. All food is wholesome and well presented', says Ms Brough.

'Having our own kitchen has completely changed the lunchtime experience for the children. Once the kitchen was installed we revamped the whole area, adding tablecloths and replacing plastic cutlery with stainless steel. We also provide children who have packed lunches with a plate so they don't have to eat out of their lunchboxes.'

According to Ms Brough the number of children having school dinners has more than doubled since installing the kitchen.

The only negative of the school kitchen, say staff, is that they all put on weight in the first six months, as they love the flapjacks, chocolate sponge and apple crumble.

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