🏆 FFLSH since 2019 🏫 5,000 meals daily in 19 early years and 20 primaries
Inverclyde Council serves Food for Life Served Here (FFLSH) Bronze award school meals to pupils in 19 early years and 20 primary schools every day. Inverclyde contains some of the most deprived areas of Scotland, with schools serving 65% free school meals.
For some children, their school meal is the only one they'll have that day. That's why it's so important to the Council that the food they're getting is healthy and nutritious. "Knowing that they're getting the best quality food that we can give them is really satisfying," says Linda Knox, Hungry for Success Coordinator at Inverclyde Council.
The menu runs alongside the school year, from August to June. While it's currently primary schools in the region that have the FFLSH Bronze award, the Council's vision is that all children in Inverclyde from 2 to 18 will receive a FFLSH meal as part of their school day.
Inverclyde Council decided to go for the Food for Life Served Here Bronze award in primary schools to improve the quality of the region's school meals. Linda looked at every element of the existing school menus to see what needs to change. She worked with her suppliers to switch to produce that met the Food for Life standards. "We really did turn the menus on their head," she says. "We went from using a lot of processed food to farm-assured raw ingredients. We looked at everything we were using and rejigged the whole menu to fit both our budgets and the Food for Life standards. We couldn't have done that without the help of the Food for Life Scotland team."
The difference is clear to the region's catering staff. "The meat that we're working with is a lot better quality," says Val Keill, Catering Manager at Ardgowan Primary School in Greenock. "We have more confidence cooking with it because you know where it's from and that you're giving the kids better quality food to enjoy."
“In Inverclyde, one child in four lives in poverty. In some areas the figure is as high as one in three. Research has consistently highlighted the basic fact that you have to eat well to do well and we recognise the absolute importance of making sure local children receive good quality meals made from healthy ingredients.
This initiative provides an important contribution towards their physical development and contributes towards closing the attainment gap between children from poorer areas and more affluent areas."
Councillor Natasha Murphy, Vice Convener of the Education & Communities Committee
"All kids deserve to have a good meal. I like to know that the food is better sourced; that it's Red Tractor certified and farm assured meat, and free-range eggs. It's nice to see that it's not a matter of 'let's just feed them the cheapest way we can'. It's cheap, but it's also healthy and good quality."
"I am very proud of what I cook. Food for Life is a journey, and the path gets easier and easier to follow. It's very much worth it."
Val Keill, Catering Manager, Ardgowan Primary School, Greenock
Ham sandwiches were a favourite among the children, but the ham that was being served contained nitrate and nitrate preservatives, and didn't come with the farm assurance required to meet the Food for Life standards. To address this, Linda and the Council team reduced the number of times the sandwiches were on the menu each week, so that they could afford to use better-quality ham.
New Scottish Government regulations mean that processed meat will be further reduced on school menus. But Linda says the children are already getting used to not having it. "The number of children taking a sandwich has dropped and the number of hot meals has gone up. That's what I was hoping would happen! There's a lot of deprivation in Inverclyde, so it's important that as many children as possible have access to a hot, nutritious meal at lunch time."
When Inverclyde first started their Food for Life journey, some of the staff found it difficult to move beyond their comfort zone. But they've quickly found they prefer this way of working. "When I started in this post three or four years ago, everything went in the oven," says Linda. "The catering staff were a bit sceptical of Food for Life at first. But once we introduced the standards and the menus, they were pleased to be cooking from scratch again and using real produce."
At Argowan Primary School, Val and her team are finding that the new dishes are going down well with pupils. "I wasn't sure how the tomato and basil pasta would go down with the children, but they love it," says Val. "They said they didn't like the different soups in the beginning. Now, we go through 60 or 70 cups when the tomato's on. They're tasting the difference and they're enjoying it more."
As part of Inverclyde’s preparation towards the Food for Life Served Here award, catering staff from across the local authority joined the Food for Life team for a free training session on seasonality and school meals.
“It gave us more of an understanding on why we are going for this award and all the benefits that will be achieved. The practical side of it was good too, and the food that was prepared by everyone was delicious."
Lynn Lewis from St Mary’s Primary School
Linda Knox, Catering Co-ordinator-Food and Nutrition, Inverclyde Council, has been awarded as the Food for Life Scotland Ambassador for Inverclyde. Linda is aiming to make Inverclyde’s primary meal service to be plastic free and will also be taking steps to try to prevent food waste.