Top marks for locally sourced school dinners

Arguably one of the most positive initiatives launched by the coalition government was the School Food Plan which introduced free school meals for all infant pupils in England. So all children in Reception and Years One and Two are entitled to a free lunch every day.

The School Food Plan recently reported on the impact of free school meals one year on. An impressive 85% of children are taking up the offer and 95% of parents recognise the benefits.

On a local scale, a partnership between Three Star Food Made Good restaurant Battlesteads and Wark First School in Northumberland has been just as significant and is well worth highlighting as we mark National School Meals Week 2015.

Kitchen closure

A fall in pupil numbers (there are just 31 children on the register) and dwindling resources meant that in February 2012 head teacher Amanda Lewis had to take the unenviable step of making the school cook redundant.

“It just wasn’t sustainable to keep the kitchen going,” Amanda says. “But we felt it was really important for the children to have a hot meal every day.”

So, after half a term of packed lunches, Amanada started scouring the community for a solution. She found it within sight of the school at Battlesteads.

Four years on and the relationship has blossomed. Battlesteads’ Head Chef Eddie Shilton devises the menus every four weeks and the restaurant provides the lunches Monday-Friday on a non-profit basis.

Every morning, the school’s caretaker, who doubles as the dinner assistant, makes the short journey over the road to Battlesteads, collects the food and then returns to serve it and she can easily tell what’s popular.

Good food means less waste

“We can tell which meals are more or less popular, from the amount of waste and we pass on that information on a regular basis to minimise waste,” says Amanda

“But one thing that’s happened is that the children have become more adventurous with their taste and we get very little waste now.”

The menu is perhaps more eclectic than that on offer in many schools. It includes sweet chilli salmon and stir fried pork and noodles. The close working relationship between restaurant and school has meant changing portion sizes, to meet the needs of all the children and avoid waste has been straightforward. Also Eddie has provided cooking demonstrations for the pupils.

Battlesteads has taken its involvement with the school a step further this year by helping to erect a poly tunnel on site, supporting the children to grow tomatoes, potatoes, raspberries and onions. The children already look after a flock of hens.

Good food as an educational tool

Amanda says that having a restaurant like Battlesteads on the school’s doorstep has had a hugely positive impact on the school and its young pupils.

“They are getting a really good balanced meal and the chance to sit down and eat with other children and that social aspect is really important for children. I think it keeps them happy and healthy.

“Battlesteads is a really good example for our pupils in so many ways. It’s good for the children to have a link to business and see that there is a story to food, it can be interesting and potentially be a career.”

The next step for the children could be a giant leap. There’s a trip planned soon for them to visit Battlesteads’ newly installed observatory. You can find out more about how it’s become the first UK hotel to open an observatory here.

Supporting your local school is a terrific way of engaging with the local community and educating the next generation about food, its provenance and healthy eating. If you’d like to partner with a local school, talk to your Account Manager or contact Chefs Adopt a School run by Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.

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