WIGAN schools have become a national role model thanks to their efforts to improve the food served to pupils.
New national guidelines are being issued with the aim of making it easier for school cooks to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus. They will be mandatory in all maintained schools, and new academies and free schools.
Wigan figured large in Government publicity for the changes this week. And local schools had already thrown themselves wholeheartedly into last autumn’s National School Meals Week which promoted healthier options.
Tracey Wareing, Wigan Council facilities operations manager, said: “We already have a great track record of providing a bespoke food service to schools. We have developed individual menus based on pupil preference and demographic profiles across Wigan borough. Our menus have been developed with our cooks, pupils, focus groups and parents and carers to ensure we meet individual school requirements. Our flexible approach means we can maximise the input of cooks. This ensures over 85 per cent of our menu is prepared ‘fresh’ with over 70 per cent of our products locally and regionally sourced.
“Working with Public Health, we’ve secured funding for a development chef employed exclusively to support schools on food related curriculum events such as cooking clubs, healthy eating assemblies and food workshops. This is offered free of charge to schools.
“We have a great team and partnership approach of which we are extremely proud and as such have the confidence in our continued delivery of a quality school meals service from September 2014 that not only delivers free school meals but also ensures we get pupils excited about food and food-related elements on the curriculum.”
Although previous standards, introduced between 2006 and 2009, did much to improve school food, they were complicated and expensive to enforce. Cooks had to use a special computer program to analyse the nutritional content of every menu. Often, they ended up following three-week menu plans sent out by centralised catering teams who would do the analysis for them. This meant they couldn’t be as flexible or creative as many would like.
In trials 90 per cent of school cooks said the new system was easier and also proved just as effective at delivering the energy and nutrients growing children need. In fact, participating secondary schools reported an increase in the consumption of vegetables, leading to higher fibre, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C intake.