School food: ten years on and leading the way

26 July 2013

The recent launch of two reports which focus on the food we feed our children has opened up some interesting parallels in the foodservice industry: Mike Bond comments:

"The opening lines of the School Food Plan pay testimony to the enormous improvement that has taken place in school food since 2005; when the humble turkey twizzler became the most talked-about food product around, and a symbol of all that was wrong with our school food system.

An incredible shift has taken place in school food and food education. We are now reaching a point where the benchmark of ‘best practice’ is shifting to become ‘normal practice’. The Food for Life Partnership has gone a long way in changing school food culture for the better, good food in schools is seen as a right not a privilege, and cultural change is being endorsed from top down.

As the School Food Plan sets out, there are still improvements needed to make significant change in school food culture, to embed these principles into standard practice. But it seems that the vital connection between good food, food education, children’s health, academic achievement, and even local economies has now been truly realised.

But does this realisation stop at the school gates?

The Out to Lunch campaign suggests that this may be the case. The campaign investigates 21 of the UK’s biggest high street chains, examining and rating the food and service they provide for children.

Unfortunately, hopes that restaurants would demonstrate leadership in food culture proved to be way off the mark. Freshly prepared, seasonal, local, ethically-sourced - these are terms not yet regarded as customary within the restaurant industry.

I'm sure I’m not the only person who finds a slight irony in the gap between what we’re giving children to eat at school and what we’re giving them to eat on the high street. Perhaps it’s in stark contrast to the work I see taking place in school catering, where many caterers have achieved the Food for Life Catering Mark. This means that even at bronze level, caterers are preparing at least 75% of food freshly, using UK meat which is traceable and ingredients which are free from undesirable additives. Fresh, unprocessed and traceable food is becoming the norm.

High street outlets, whilst being considerably more vocal about their ethical credentials, are lagging far behind our school caterers.

The School Food Plan highlights these caterers who are leading the way in foodservice by encouraging schools to make the Food for Life Catering Mark part of their contract. I am delighted to see our scheme advocated in the plan as the procurement standard for which caterers should be aiming. The recommendation that head teachers and caterers work together to achieve this and to embed the whole school approach is a fantastic step in normalising great food and food education in schools.

Overall, I am left with a feeling that we are moving steadily in the right direction. I am also aware, however, of the importance of a joined-up approach to food and food education for young people. What is taking place in our schools must now take place elsewhere, and food providers in other sectors must draw on existing examples of best practice.

Who would have guessed, ten years ago, just who these exemplars would turn out to be?"

Mike Bond is Catering Mark Manager for Soil Association Certification.

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