Beverley Baker, head of commercial services at Surrey County Council, is chairman of the Local Authority Caterers' Association (LACA), which is organising National School Meals Week next week. She talked to Janie Stamford.
Caterer You were recently appointed as LACA chairman for a second time. How have things changed since you were last in the chair?
Beverley Baker Since I was last in this position in 2002, our agenda has become much more high profile. There is a lot more challenge from LACA members and the media interest has grown considerably, which is great. Behind the scenes there are also a lot of developments as LACA is changing its status to LACA Ltd.
Caterer Nutritional standards have been made compulsory in secondary schools. How is that going?
BB We're finding that younger secondary school students are used to eating healthily, having come up from primary school where the standards were introduced last year, but the older students are more challenging. The school meal is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle and a whole school approach is needed to increase the uptake: space, time and an appealing environment for students to eat in; lunchtime lock-in policies; and head teacher engagement.
Caterer What is happening in National School Meals Week this year?
BB Each day has a different theme including Get Eating, Get Cooking and Get Active, but the key message of the week is Get Involved. World champion hurdler Colin Jackson has come onboard and will announce Britain's most popular dishes served in schools and he will also demonstrate a range of exercises for students to help build-up an appetite for lunchtime.
Caterer What other plans do you have for your term as LACA chairman?
BB With 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children expected to be clinically obese by 2050, I would like to see school meals contribute to a reduction in that forecast. Head teacher engagement is a key factor in the success of the healthy school lunch drive. The Government's transitional funding is currently set to stop in March 2011, so we want to keep funding high on the political agenda.
Caterer How is LACA lobbying the Government on the issue of funding?
BB While the uptake of school meals still needs to improve, the NHS will face huge costs in the future without government cash for quality ingredients. We will be meeting with catering providers from both the public and private sector to determine the issues faced behind the scenes and share these with the relevant MPs from the main parties. With an election expected, it's important they are all made aware that continuing the funding is an investment now to save in the future.
- National School Meals Week runs from 9 to 13 November, visitwww.iloveschoolmeals.co.ukfor details