Gold award meals that are good for pupils and planet

🏆 FFLSH since 2013   🏫 6,200 meals daily in 50 primaries and 1 secondary

By using Food for Life Served Here (FFLSH), North Ayrshire Council is making a concerted effort to serve food which is good for pupils’ health, good for the planet, and good for the council’s purse. The catering units within its 50 primary schools, 15 early years settings, and Arran High School are making 6,200 Gold FFLSH meals a day, and have been doing this since 2013.

It has cut food waste and food miles, and encouraged everyone – growers, suppliers, buyers, caterers, pupils, teachers and parents – to improve how people in North Ayrshire eat, farm and safeguard the natural world.

Good food is not considered just a speciality, a rare item, or an optional achievement. It is now the norm for school meals in North Ayrshire.

Going the distance for local procurement

“Buying pre-cooked chicken from Thailand and South America was not great for our pupils or for the planet,” says Gillian Dore, Purchasing Officer with North Ayrshire Council. “It was frozen and processed, and had travelled half-way round the world to get here. It wasn’t what we wanted.”

In 2012, the council wanted to radically change this and go straight for the Gold award for school meals. Now, all 30 kitchens are buying the same fresh, local, ethical and organic products. A quarter of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown within 100 miles of the kitchens. School catering staff are cooking from scratch; they are also using vegetables grown by pupils.

Many schools now have their own polytunnels and raised beds with pupils growing rhubarb, carrots and fresh herbs for school dinners, and selling the surplus to parents.

Seven years of award-winning school meals

“We want our children to get the best possible start in life and, for me, that means serving up healthy, nutritious, local produce in our dining halls every single day.”

Carolyn Hope, North Ayrshire Council’s Senior Facilities Manager

"North Ayrshire Council is setting a fantastic example, highlighting the benefits of a local and organic supply chain"

Craig McCormack, Green City Wholefoods, Glasgow

Putting organic on the menu, affordably

As Gold award-holders, at least 15% of North Ayrshire's ingredient spend goes on organic produce. Buying organic food supports nature-friendly farming that is better for wildlife and helps support soil health. So how did North Aryshire achieve this?

"You can balance the costs. People say "Oh, we can't afford it", but you can. Buying processed food is expensive. Using fresh food helps us balance food spend."

"We didn't just want the best value; we wanted the best product as well. That includes for the environment. Learning about the effects of pesticides and antibiotics, the harm done to bees and animals, never mind children, was a real eye-opener."

Gillian Dore, Purchasing Officer, North Ayrshire Council

Boosting local business

Now, the majority of ingredients for North Ayrshire school meals are from Scotland. 73% of the Council’s ingredients are produced in the UK, with over 57% of fare coming from Scottish suppliers. Of that, over 27% of the annual spend is from Ayrshire food producers.

Carolyn Hope, North Ayrshire Council’s Senior Facilities Manager, says the Council goes to great lengths to ensure it continues to use the best, local ingredients to retain the Gold FFLSH award:

“We work hard to ensure we can support local suppliers by sourcing the healthiest possible ingredients. For example, almost 18 per cent of our fresh ingredients are organic including Scottish milk, pasta, rice, flour, meat and bananas.

“All the milk, yoghurt, cheese, seasonal fruit and vegetables are from Scotland when available, the eggs are free range from a local Ayrshire farm and our fresh fish is Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable seafood and fully traceable. None of our food contains undesirable additives, artificial trans fats or GM ingredients and all our meat is ethically sourced to ensure UK welfare standards. We take a huge amount of care over every single ingredient which goes into our school kitchens."

Food for Life Ambassadors

Sheena McClymont, Catering Supervisor at St Anthony’s Primary School and Laura Miller, Senior Catering Supervisor at St Matthew’s Academy, Saltcoats, are Food for Life Scotland Ambassadors in North Ayrshire. 

Sheena is working with students on cooking and growing projects that will educate them about where their food comes from. They will collect seeds, prepare them for planting, nurture them as they grow, harvest them and then use the produce in cooking sessions. Pupils are also encouraged to think about preventing waste as part of the project and are using milk bottles for watering cans, grape cartons as propagators and blue roll tube, yoghurt pots and egg trays to plant seeds. Sheena also has plans to work with Adrossen Academy on their grow garden and beehives.

Laura has been awarded for her work to raise awareness of the importance of the seasonality and provenance of food among her local community so that parents and pupils have more of an appreciation of the work going on in the dining hall. This will include assemblies and presentations explaining the focus on sustainable sourcing and procuring from local producers to support Scotland’s economy.