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LACA conference 2014 gives key advice on healthier school food

11 July 2014 by
LACA conference 2014 gives key advice on healthier school food

Consider your food through the eyes of a child, and get the whole school involved; these were just some of the tips suggested to help schools improve their catering offer, according to this year's LACA conference.

Educating Essex.

Bremner added that the headteacher of the school must be on board with plans for maximum success, and said that schools must feel that they "own" the School Good Plan, which is helping to pledge £150m to help schools build better kitchens and food offers.

Drew said that food was a "crucial part of a child's likelihood to succeed", for example, in going to university, and said that the number of children who come to school without eating is a "massive problem and scandal". Caterers should create a safe place in which pupils can succeed, he said.

He also recommended that high-sugar energy drinks should be banned among the under-18s (even outside school, as government regulations already ban them inside), and added that caterers whose default answer to everything was 'yes' were more likely to be more popular with schools.

The tips come in light of new government regulations which will demand that all children in reception, year one and year two in England must to be given free school lunches from this September (known as the Universal Infant Free School Meals or UIFSM).

Regulations for the number of portions of wholegrain, fish, fruit and vegetables, snacks, sugar, fat, fibre and fried foods already exist.

Yet, time and again, speakers throughout the conference's first day suggested ways in which schools can make it easier to serve healthier, cost-effective meals to more students, in a manner that would also help raise nutritional standards, improve concentration, and teach pupils the benefits of healthier eating habits.

In a panel session, Phil Mayhew, interim chief executive of Solihull MBC, said that not letting older students out to buy food at lunchtime was key, and also suggested that menus should not mention "healthy options", but simply include more nutritious dishes alongside the rest of the choices.

In his session on health and nutrition, Dr Louis Levy, nutrition advice team manager at Public Health England (PHE) said that caterers can substantially improve the health of their food offer simply by changing ingredients (without even radically changing recipes or dishes).

He also said that new government guidelines on healthy menus should also be considered alongside the existing government buying standards, and highlighted the PHE's free tracker that allows caterers to key in products' nutritional information to check whether they comply.

Mayhew also added that lunchtimes should last at least an hour, and in larger schools should be staggered, to allow more careful meal preparation, and encourage children to appreciate the social, enjoyable side to eating.

Conference chair and child nutrition specialist Dr David Bull said that he felt school days could be longer to allow lunchtimes to be extended - a suggestion that appeared popular among delegates present.

Dr Katie Wilson, executive director of the national Food Service Management Institute in the US, brought lessons from the US to the UK, and said that food facilities should be seen to be as important as teacher training, sports and technology.

Caterers should also focus on product design to help sell healthier dishes, she said, such as renaming a bean burrito as "Monster Burrito", so kids aren't even aware that it's the healthy choice.

Lastly, Adam Henson, farmer and co-presenter on BBC Countryfile, encouraged caterers to get children interested in the agricultural supply chain, and said although he had great respect for caterers working to strict budgets, that it was important to not let price cloud out key food values.

Bremner summarised the prevailing view.

He said: "Food is an integral part of the school day, and if education is free in this country then food should be a principle part of that. That is the aspiration and the vision."
The conference - introduced by current LACA chair Carrieanne Bishop â€' also hosted the LACA Awards for Excellence prize-giving Gala Dinner, and is set to conclude on Friday 11 July with a speech from minister of state for schools, David Laws MP.

KEY TIPS FROM LACA MAIN EVENT 2014

Consider your food through the eyes of a child

Get the whole school involved, including the headteacher, and put food and health on the curriculum

See food as a crucial part of success, as important as other elements such as teacher training

Encourage older students not to drink energy drinks before coming to class

Use tools such as those from the PHE that can help you purchase healthier ingredients

Seek out funding from bodies such as the School Food Plan to improve your in-school kitchen and facilities

Don't list healthy options separately from others

Good product design is key, especially if it disguises/doesn't acknowledge that is the "healthy option"

Try to make lunchtimes at least one hour long

Healthy school meals will benefit NHS, says LACA >>

Tanya Watkin named LACA School Chef of the Year 2014 >>

Winners of LACA Awards for Excellence 2014 announced >>

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