Food for thought
PUBLISHED: 06:58 28 April 2014
Angela Sharpe Photography 2013
Getting children excited about food and encouraging them to try different flavours is no mean feat.
But at Lodge Lane Infant School in Norwich, the whole ethos centres around food – from healthy eating and creating a special dining experience to pupils growing their own produce and learning more through curriculum related topics. It is this comprehensive approach which helped Lodge Lane and Norse win the Best School Food Project category, sponsored by the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, at the EDP Norfolk Food and Drink Awards 2013.
“The word ‘project’ is really misleading,” says head teacher Andy Tovell. “It is a commitment to a long-term, fundamental change in our school values and entire ethos.”
The school began working with the Lottery-funded Food for Life Partnership in 2010 and such was the positive impact on pupils, they decided to continue with the programme and it has grown from then.
“It helped us to think strategically about how we grow food, how we involve the children, how we link it to the curriculum, then how we cook the food, serve it and share it.”
Working with school catering providers Norse, the menu has changed to ensure it meets the criteria of Food for Life, to include fresh, locally sourced produce wherever possible, plus a percentage of organic, Fairtrade and free-range food, as well as anything grown in the school gardens.
“Now when we have a roast, we cook with fresh joints of meat, like you would have for your Sunday lunch at home. And it is delicious, it makes such a difference – and it has transformed the gravy, it’s proper meat gravy,” he laughs.
“All of this has a cost to the supplier but it still has to be done within the framework of the usual school meal prices. It couldn’t have happened without Norse who have been an amazing support.”
The pupils have also been involved in making changes to how they eat, including transforming the canteen into the Sunshine Café.
“Often it is simple things that are most effective in getting children excited about food and engaged in where it comes from, how it is cooked and what its health benefits are. We have got rid of the flight trays and use nice plates for mains and bowls for dessert which are served separately. We use tablecloths and there is water on every table which children help themselves to.”
Members of the school council’s Lunch Bunch Team are responsible for laying the tables with the aim of making it look less like a school canteen and more like an inviting café.
“There has definitely been a change in children’s perceptions. I am on duty most lunch times and it is heartening to see children who I know are fussy eaters beginning to try new things. It is all about small steps.”
As the weather warms up, attention will turn to the vegetable gardens - anything that is grown gets eaten at school.
“We do it as part of the curriculum as it covers so many topics and good learning ideas. They are always really excited about harvesting what they grow and finding ways to use it. In the autumn term, it never ceases to amaze me when I see all the children trying little cups of pumpkin soup, which they have made from the pumpkins they grow.
“Fundamentally we are trying to prepare children for their lives ahead. Obviously reading, writing and maths are all essential, but we must also prepare them for society and we want them to live a long and healthy and happy life. We want to change children’s attitudes to food and try to create a model which they can take away for life,” he says.
Jane Hill’s seven-year-old son Joshua is a pupil at Lodge Lane and she believes his eating habits have changed thanks to the school’s approach to food.
“He is now much more keen to try different foods. We’ve worked a lot on this at home, but support from school has helped it all come together. Because we come to have meals in Families to Lunch weeks, we know the food is very good.”