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Shetland nabs Bronze Award for the second time with Food for Life Scotland

Shetland nabs Bronze Award for the second time with Food for Life Scotland

Shetland’s catering team are celebrating after the council renewed its Food for Life Served Here Bronze award for the second year in a row.

The council, which first received the Bronze award in 2021, is now serving over 50K meals annually that are nutritious, sustainable and locally-sourced Food for Life meals in its 28 sites across primary schools, nurseries and high schools every day. 

Local authorities receive the award following an independent assessment and inspection to ensure the food being served in schools across the local authority is good for pupils’ health, good for the environment and good for the local economy. The scheme is run by Soil Association Scotland and funded by Scottish Government.

Shetland is the 17th local authority in Scotland to achieve a ‘Food for Life Served Here’ Award and one of only a few to hold the award across all their education settings.

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 Beattie, Team Leader of Shetland Islands Council’s Cleaning and Catering Department, explains the benefits: “In using local produce we’re providing jobs for our local communities. It goes around in a circle.”

As the country faces a cost-of-living crisis, catering teams are under increased pressure to balanced costs. School meals have become more important than ever as a nutritional safety net for pupils whose families might be struggling. At the same time, the need to tackle climate change through serving food that is sustainably produced remains paramount. 

Shetland has demonstrated what can be achieved despite difficult circumstances. Holding the bronze award since 2021, Shetland catering teams ensure that a minimum of 75% of dishes are freshly prepared from unprocessed ingredients. Meals are also free from undesirable trans fats, sweeteners and additives, and use free range eggs, higher welfare meat and ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources. 

Neil shares: “Whilst the work we do may look easy, the effort to get – and continue to put good food on the plate – isn’t always easy and shouldn’t be underestimated. It takes dedication to ensure we’re making food that’s good for the pupils, benefiting local people as well as the planet.”

The Bronze Food for Life Served Here award recognises that a minimum of 75 percent of dishes are freshly prepared from unprocessed ingredients. Meals are also free from undesirable trans fats, sweeteners, additives and all genetically modified ingredients. Catering teams also use free range eggs, higher welfare meat and ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources.

Shetland Islands Council works closely with local suppliers to source local produce for school meals.  Meat is provided by two Shetland-based companies, Hughson Brothers and JW Gray; fresh fish is supplied by Blydoit Fish Ltd; and milk is supplied by Shetland Farm Dairies.  Island bakeries provide bread for schools and vegetables are sourced from local suppliers wherever possible.

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.

Sarah Duley, Head of Food, Food for Life Scotland, said: “Congratulations to Shetland for renewing their Food for Life Served Here Bronze Award for another year. This is a huge achievement and shows that staff are dedicated to providing pupils with a hot, nutritious meal that’s healthy, freshly prepared and sustainably produced.

“We are delighted to recognise Shetland for continuing to put more good food on school plates and for supporting Scotland’s food businesses and Good Food Nation ambitions.”