Silver school meals which benefit schoolchildren, SMEs, and sustainability

🏆 FFLSH since 2012   🏫 3,500 meals daily in 38 primaries and 6 nurseries

Stirling Council’s journey to the Food for Life Served Here (FFLSH) award began at the Low Carbon Stirling seminar in 2011, when the council recognised the potential of Food for Life to reduce their carbon footprint, improve food education for children, add value and quality to food in schools, and provide local employment opportunities for a skilled workforce. 

Stirling Council gained the FFLSH Bronze award in 2012, and celebrated upgrading to Silver in 2014. They were the first local authority in Scotland to upgrade and achieve the Silver award. As part of the changes made to their Bronze menu, organic milk is now served in all Stirling Council primary schools.

Today, Food for Life fits with Stirling Council’s policy of providing freshly prepared school meals as opposed to following a convenience food model. It also forms part of their ‘Alive with Local Food’ strategy which aims to increase access to local, organic, fresh and healthy food in schools, and to enable more local food enterprises to compete in public procurement contracts.

"We are more than just cooks"

Janice Fanning, Stirling Council Catering and Cleaning Manager, says: “We are dedicated to providing appetising, delicious and nutritious meals for our school children. We’re very proud of our schools catering service, who do a great job preparing healthy meals across the school estate.”

As part of their commitment to Food for Life principles, the council invested in upskilling their catering staff, increasing the percentage of school meals freshly prepared from basic and raw ingredients. This helped to raise teaching staff’s confidence and skills in the kitchen, and connected catering professionals with their education colleagues through training run as part of Stirling Council’s Career-Long Professional Learning (CLPL) programme.

Food for Life Scotland were keen to help by providing a series of CLPL sessions involving Stirling Council catering services and local organisations such as Forth Environment Link, which resulted in catering staff gaining confidence in their professional expertise. The next step was to share this with their education colleagues.

Lunchtime is learning time

Tracey Walker, Menu Development Manager with Stirling Council, says, “We were filming a charity Milkshake Day, we overheard one of the teachers commenting that she didn’t know how to bake biscuits with the children. I realised that you can never presume that, because you know something, other people do as well.”

In practical sessions, Stirling Council catering staff taught teaching staff about the fundamentals of the Silver Food for Life Award, and how to prepare food safely and hygienically. They taught teachers how to make three tasty and healthy dishes using ingredients which met the Silver award standards. Then, once the teachers had cooked the meal, they all sat down to eat together in the school dining hall so that they could understand how dining hall culture affects children’s experience of school.

Both sets of professionals benefited, but for catering staff in particular the initiative has developed their confidence. It has shown them how much they know and how important their often-underrated skills are for children’s education and the local economy.

Collaborating with local suppliers

Stirling Council has a long history of supporting local SMEs when going out to tender for food supplies, having found that they are able to compete with larger, more centralised suppliers on quality, price, and a willingness to deliver across the local authority’s mix of urban and rural areas.

The council worked with Food for Life Scotland to find new ways of making these public contracts more accessible to local SMEs. For example, suppliers of dry foods and non-food provisions to schools have taken on delivery of fruit and vegetables, which has enabled smaller fruit and vegetable producers with limited transportation capacity to get their produce out to schools.

The council have found that working directly with their suppliers has opened up a dialogue about new ways of satisfying the needs of the local authority. Karen Cockburn at Stirling Council says, “They’ll come and say, ‘This is new, what do you think? This meets the guidelines, what do you think? Let’s trial it.’ So they’re always coming with fresh ideas which is great.”

Food for Life Scotland Ambassadors

Alexandra Boyd, Food and Nutrition Compliance Assistant and Michelle Smith, Facility Officer, Stirling Council, have been awarded as the Food for Life Scotland Ambassadors for their area. They want to raise awareness of the value of healthy, sustainable and locally sourced food within their local community and among catering staff. They are planning to host Q&A sessions on school meals for staff, set up display boards about healthy eating, survey parents to find out how much they know about their children’s school meals and set up cooking lessons with parents and children.