When Neil Beattie, Team Leader of Shetland Islands Council’s Cleaning and Catering Department, attended a Food For Life Served Here masterclass in Glasgow in 2019, he was impressed with what he saw.
The local authority were already meeting a lot of the Food for Life Served Here standards and using a large amount of local produce, so with a little help from the Food for Life Scotland team, they standardised their school meals menus, and then sent in an application to become an award holder.
The pandemic started just as they began the process – although this had an impact, it did not put them off, and in just over year they had achieved their goal!
The Shetland Islands have a long history of being self-sufficient due to their geography. Using food produced by the Island comes naturally and makes sense.
The milk used in the school settings is all local. Most of the bread comes from independent bakeries in the Islands’ communities. Shetland lamb and locally caught fish feature on the menus too. Fishing is a part of life in the Islands and a local fishmonger supplies to all the schools – fresh mackerel is one of the many bonuses of this location.
Neil explains the benefits: “In using local produce we’re providing jobs for our local communities. It goes around in a circle.”
Neil emphasises that the main ingredient of their success is, of course, the teams making the school meals. “Cooking from scratch has always been the norm in the Shetland Islands’ schools. Our catering teams work very hard and deserve recognition for all they do. Our new menus have been designed to allow for some creativity (and ensures we use up all our ingredients) – we’re lucky that many of our staff enjoy the opportunity to create their own dishes using healthy, sustainable produce. Around once a week we see a Cook’s Dish on the menu – this could be a fish dish, a vegetarian dish or perhaps even a dessert!”
“They always say, however, the best part of the job is working with the children.”
The children respond well to the freshly prepared meals and at some of the schools, such as Cullivoe Primary School on the island of Yell, the children grow their own produce in a polytunnel as well as out in the school grounds, this produce is then used in some of the dishes.
Councillor George Smith, Chair of the Council’s Education and Families Committee adds:
“The bronze award is well-deserved recognition for the work done by our school catering staff who provide healthy and nutritious meals in our schools and early years settings across the isles. We place great value on providing high quality school meals, and there are many benefits to providing locally-sourced produce too.
“I’m really pleased that Shetland schools have achieved this national accreditation and we’ll continue to strive to provide the best school meals we can for our young people.”
Cathy Mann, Head Cook, Scalloway Primary School, has been awarded as the Food for Life Scotland Ambassador for the Shetland Islands for her work setting up an after-school club for pupils and parents to learn more about their food and where it comes from. This includes sessions on the benefits of seasonal goods and understanding the value of eating local produce. There is a focus on cooking within a budget, using up leftovers and working with store cupboard ingredients, such as tinned tomatoes and pulses. The group are also able to discuss potential new dishes and recipes for school menus, so food choice becomes more a community activity.