Public schools

Public schools first began providing food to students to improve the health of the children, particularly those whose your communityfamilies were too poor to feed them adequately. What’s more, it was clear that a child who was hungry was not able to learn. Today, this laudable effort has been so drastically altered; it is now the foods in our schools that are creating learning and health problems for our children.

While many countries have always provided healthy food for their children, the English-speaking nations seem to have had the worst problems. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of British chef, Jamie Oliver, many deplorable practices have been exposed and positive steps are being taken.

Jamie and the Turkey Twizzlers

jamieBritish parents and educators have learned a lot about school foods lately and the uproar has reached all the way to 10 Downing Street, the home of Prime Minister Blair.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has put the spotlight on a long-kept secret – that the food most schools serve is dreadful, with the Turkey Twizzler being held up as a symbol of all that’s wrong with the lunches. One nutritionist described a Twizzler as “full of mechanically reclaimed turkey, every part of the bird you wouldn’t eat if you knew what it was.” It has been described as resembling “the innersole of a shoe, so untextured and so tasteless that without a good deal of additives it would taste of nothing and would fall apart at the first touch.”

By the time Oliver began filming a TV series on England’s school kitchens the government allowance for a child’s lunch was less than half of what was spent on a prisoner’s meal and less than half of what France and Italy spend on feeding their childr

How did things get so bad?

Like school foods in the U.S., British school food programs started out with the best of intentions. England began a jamieoliverschool lunch program in 1906. Years later the National Health Service promoted nutritious food for mothers and infants by providing free milk, orange juice and cod liver oil.

Schools were required to follow strict nutritional standards. When the Thatcher government came to power in the late 1970s these programs were the victims of cost-cutting. The changes were hailed under the slogans of “parental choice” and “no nanny state.” The government began awarding contracts to the lowest bidder, and traditional foods were replaced by Twizzlers, sugary drinks, fries and chocolate bars. (Scotland banned Twizzlers years ago.)

Political damage-control

Depositphotos_93897998_l-2015As Chef Oliver was preparing to show up at the Prime Minister’s door with a “Feed Me Better” petition and 271,000 signatures, the government quickly assembled a package of sweeping reforms and 220 million pounds to fund them. “It’s certainly very positive,” Oliver commented, “Twenty years too late, but we’re talking about the right sort of money.”

Despite the hasty government initiatives, change might not come quickly. A school meals task force is not expected to have nutrition standards ready until September of 2007. The reforms can be delayed by long-term contracts many of the schools have with the companies providing the junky foo

Healthy initiatives

Some schools didn’t wait for the Twizzler crisis to peak, but have made changes and seen positive results. Our Lady of Grace primary school in London got rid of the chicken nuggets and fries in favor of lamb casseroles and salads and find that discipline problems are way down, and test scores way up. Teachers see children who are no longer sleepy and irritable after lunch. One teacher notes, “They just feel happier rather than uptight.”

Saint Barnabas School in Worcestershire reported dramatic improvements in the students after they removed dyes and preservatives from their school food. Teachers at the Windsor Hight School in Halesowen have noticed that the students are calmer after they removed vending machine junk food.

Gourmet school lunches in England

davidlucasDavid Lucas, a chef with prestigious Cordon Bleu training, has transformed the food at the Ickneid High School in Bedforshire, England.

As a result the faculty has seen academic achievement rise and behavior problems diminish. The school’s head teacher, Chris Dean, reports improvement both in the students’ ability to concentrate and the energy levels of the teachers. “Everyone seems happier and there are very few discipline problem

A local butcher

cheflucasWork begins early in the school kitchens, and by lunch time students will find the same type of freshly prepared foods that may be served at the exclusive hotel where Chef Lucas trained. They include: salmon bonne femme, beef bourguignon, mussels, duck, and even pheasant. Some of the students’ favorite dishes are roast pork, pasta and vegetable bake, cheese and egg flan, filled baked potatoes, and apple cr

Food costs less

Lucas explained that a chef learns to understand raw ingredients and use them wisely. “You can make delicious meals out of quite cheap joints of meat if you know how to cook them.” The vegetables he used for hotel meals might have been more elegant than the cauliflower and broccoli he now incorporates into school menus, but the taste is not compromised. Costs are kept low by seeking out local products and by the fact that the number of meals served each day (800) is so high. This volume gives the school a tremendous bargaining advantage.