School meals are served to nearly 50,000 pupils across Derbyshire every day.
They have grown in popularity with just under half of schoolchildren tucking into a midday meal, compared to 40 percent five years ago.
Tim Blowers. head of the county council’s catering service, said: “There are three areas why they are important. There’s the health benefits of eating a nutritious meal. Evidence shows that in the afternoon pupils perform better because they have had a meal and they are not eating a lot of sugar and food with additives. There are economic benefits for the school and local community through the employment of staff and all the suppliers to the food chain.”
Eighteen months ago, the universal infant free school meal came into force guaranteeing that every child between four and seven would have a midday feed at school at no cost to their parents. Tim said: “Eighty-seven per cent eat that in Derbyshire which is hitting the Government target.”
Statistics compiled using electronic records from GPS surgeries across the country showed that in the period 1994 to 2013, thirty per cent of children aged six to ten years were overweight or obese so the pressure is on school catering staff to make meals healthy and nutritious as well as appetising and tasty.
Tim said: “The puddings are reduced in fat and sugar where necessary, the cooking methods are a lot healthier with food oven baked rather than fried.”
Primary schoolchildren will be tucking into a new menu in April. Tim said: “There’s going to be organic yoghurt, jacket potatoes with fillings and a deli bar which will be aimed at those who don’t take dinner at the moment. It’s all about choice and encouraging them, rather than them having a packed meal which isn’t as healthy.”
l For our special report on school meals, see this week’s Derbyshire Times.