Lesson in healthy eating

PUBLISHED: 10:32 01 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:37 06 May 2010

Liz Smith – “Children here do eat healthier now”

Liz Smith – “Children here do eat healthier now”

Jamie Oliver gave the nation the wake up call it needed when he ran his campaign to improve school dinners. But how successful has this been in schools in Comet Country? Comet reporter Becky Findley looks into school dinner uptake and pops along to one se

Panel of school dinners experts – (left to right) Alex Perry, Oliver Wing, Allis Goddard, Georgia Green and Ben Bowen

Jamie Oliver gave the nation the wake up call it needed when he ran his campaign to improve school dinners.

But how successful has this been in schools in Comet Country?

Comet reporter Becky Findley looks into school dinner uptake and pops along to one secondary school to see what's on the menu.

Healthy food on offer at Knights Templar

SINCE Jamie Oliver took up the cause, school dinners have become a big issue.

Most parents watched Jamie's School Dinners in horror as kids stuffed themselves with processed food and were unable to name vegetables.

But the chirpy chef bounced onto the screen and made our kids eat their greens.

There were still the odd offenders - parents who decided to give their children burgers through school railings to keep up their daily fix of fat.

But after a 300,000 signature petition Tony Blair agreed to commit £280 million to changing the face of British schools for good.

Schools say they have been pulling their socks up since Jamie Oliver declared that the new regime was 'pucker' and a national initiative was rolled out to change children's eating habits.

But do kids in Comet country know their carrots from their cabbage?

Figures released by Hertfordshire County Council show there was a drop in school dinner uptakes during the time of the campaign, from 2005 to 2006.

In December 2004 40,086 was the daily average number of meals sold, in December 2005 it was 38,843 and in December 2006 it had shrunk to 37,840.

In the secondary sector the daily average turnover of meals shrunk from 17,405 equivalent meals in December 2005 to 14,745 equivalent meals in December 2006.

Regarding the figures a spokesman for the council said: "This larger drop in secondary trading is not surprising as the new rules regarding menus have affected this sector most.

"In particular, we have had to remove vending machines in nearly all of our secondary schools and the range of beverages we have been able to sell over the counter has been severely reduced."

However, in January 2007 things started looking up as Herts County Council served 37,095 primary meals per day, which, compared with 31,270 in September 2006 - an increase of 18.6 per cent.

The spokesman added: "Here in Hertfordshire we work very hard to maintain a good take-up of school meals despite problems nationally with parents' confidence following Jamie Oliver's television programme.

"We believe that our healthier menus and the schemes we run to promote healthy choices have proved to be very successful with Hertfordshire's school meals more popular than those of other local authorities we are aware of."

Schools in Hertfordshire may have seen a drop in school dinner uptake after the campaign but some are reporting a success story.

Andrew Pickering, headteacher of Knights Templar School in Baldock, said: "I think the quality of school meals has definitely improved in the last couple of years.

"We've had an increase in the number of children taking school meals."

As Knights Templar is also a specialist sports and performing arts school it does have a head start.

But Mr Pickering said: "It's about trying to make the food varied and appealing. When it comes to the meal of the day we put the healthy option first.

"They have to go past the salads before they can get to the biscuits.

"Chips are only available on a Friday. If you put them on every day, they would eat them every day."

"About five years ago many schools had vending machines and tuck shops. We now have fizzy water and juice drinks rather than Coke."

And there are no parents pushing burgers through the railings outside this school.

Mr Pickering said: "A parent once complained about the choices and I sent him a copy of the menu and he couldn't believe it.

"When you read in the national press that we're the most obese nation, that's an issue.

"It's not just about diet, it's about exercise and wellbeing."

He added: "There are now standards nationally so all schools have to be careful what they offer, the staff is also geared towards healthy eating.

"The new Year 7 joined in September. A couple of weeks later I asked them if they were enjoying it and they said the best thing was the school dinners!"

The school dinners at Knights Templar are certainly delicious, with choice similar to a restaurant and roast dinners mid week.

The take-up among younger children is better than the older ones as there are some older children who have found it more difficult to move to a healthy diet.

Mr Pickering said: "I think it will take time. It's important that schools stick to their guns."

Liz Smith, who has been in charge of the kitchen for 25 years, said: "I've seen the most change just recently, but we did put a bit of it into practice before.

"Children here do eat healthier now. Before the Jamie's school dinner thing it was about average. They used to go 'what's that?' and I'd say 'broccoli!'."

But does the new regime affect their behaviour? Media teacher Jodie Long said: "After lunchtime they used to get a bit hyperactive if they had been drinking Coke.

"I don't know if there's any truth in it but healthy eating seems to help."

Area manager Carole Buckland said: "All the fast food has been replaced by healthier options - pasta, jacket potatoes and paninis."

"We're using local produce where we can. All our pork sausages come from a farm in Suffolk and we're sourcing local beef."

But the real taste test comes straight from the children's mouths.

A Year 7 class seemed as clued up as nutrition expert and TV presenter Gillian McKeith about the saying 'you are what you eat'.

Oliver Wing said: "I eat organic food - sweetcorn, onions, peppers. My mum likes us eating healthy."

"I used to be a picky eater and was short and thin, but then I started eating healthy and I put on muscle.

"I realise how much better it is when you try new foods."

The kids also added that Jamie Oliver was a campaigner and "like a hero."

They didn't seem to crave the sweet stuff. One child admitted to occasionally asking for strawberries and cream but Allis Goddard said that crisps and chocolate are banned from her house.

She added: "What bought me into healthy eating was problems with my hearing. When I changed my diet I think it helped. Now I eat lots of vegetables."

# What are school dinners like in your child's school? Has your child been put off by the healthier food or has it tickled their tastebuds? We want to hear from you. Email editorial@thecomet.net

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