Monthly Archives: April 2011

Please, Sir, can I have less?

According to a report in the Express & Star, Walsall Council is planning to cut portion sizes of its cooked school lunches in an effort to reduce obesity among the borough’s children.

Is portion control the problem or the food that is served?

Forgive my confused face here, but this seems ridiculous.

The council claims that infants and junior school portions are the same, which is leading to fatter, unhealthier children.

Obesity is undoubtedly a problem in the borough and I wouldn’t want to underplay the seriousness of it, but surely the local authority has to look at what foods it offers the youngsters in schools rather than just cutting portion sizes?

The ultimate responsibility for a child’s eating habit lies with the parent/s. If the adults stuff their faces with junk food and drink pop, it is hardly surprising their offspring pick up equally bad habits and grab for a bag of crisps instead of an apple when they are peckish.

But for some youngsters, the school meal is the only hot meal they get a day, so it is important that school catering services provide nutritious and filling meals.

Let’s pretend for a moment that this proposal by the council isn’t an exercise in cutting costs or getting rid of the catering facilities at the borough’s schools …

Here is a snapshot of menus at a Walsall primary school last term. A school lunch costs £1.80:

For example, day 1, week 1:

beef burger in a bap with ketchup

breaded small fry with parsley sauce

creamed potatoes or smilies

peas, baked beans or salad

iced apple sponge and custard.

(So, beef burger in a bap, smilies and beans, with a pudding. Hardly a nutritious repast.)

Day four, week 3:

Cottage pie, gravy, half a baguette

Pizza

Jacket wedges

Peas, baked beans or salad

Jam feather sponge and custard

(Cottage pie – hopefully with hidden vegetables in it – and peas, with a pudding. Better. However, they’d also get some jacket wedges, too. Carb fest.)

Day 3, week 5

Roast lamb, mint sauce, gravy

Cheese pasty

Creamed or boiled potatoes

Peas, beans or mixed salad

Shortcake and custard

(There are plenty of roast dinners on offer, if that’s your thing.)

Day two, week 7:

Pasta Bolognese

Vegetarian sausage roll

Garlic gread

Creamed potatoes

Carrots, sweetcorn or salad

Toffee muffin traybake

(Veggie sausage roll AND creamed potatoes? And a sugar-laden pudding?)

There are always baked potatoes (with cheese or coleslaw; no butter) and a pasta dish – called smart pasta, for some reason – bread (no butter), yoghurts and fruit available. Children can also buy fruit juice (30p), milk (16p) or milkshakes (35p).

I’m neither a dietitian nor a nutritionist and I’m not a person who would deny a child their pudding, but some menus appear to be less balanced than others.

School cooks I have spoken to about also complain that the menus are overloaded with carbs and there is not enough emphasis on freshly-cooked meals and vegetables. Smilies may be baked nowadays and not fried (making them lower in fat and therefore acceptable, say the authority’s catering service) but are they the best choice? Some school cooks think not* (*caution: not a scientific piece of research.)

There has also been a return to the menu of burgers and sausage rolls, but no doubt the ketchup that is served with them is low in sugar, so that’s all right … And are the sausage rolls/vegetarian sausage rolls high in fat? If not,

Traditional Sunday lunch by adactio (http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/10098413/)

I’d love the recipe, please.

There have been a number of occasions over these past few years – even before the Jamie Oliver revolution – that I tried to get some information out of the council’s catering service about the nutritional content of the menus.

Occasionally, I have been successful with information: for instance, I was told that the sausages contained 80 per cent plus meat, more than the premium supermarket ones. Hurrah for that.

Other requests for information have not been given (ie: does each meal have to be nutritionally balanced or is it a menu over a week that has to be balanced?).

I know the council staff have worked very hard to try to improve the menus over the years, introducing salad bars and making meals at primary schools more colourful, but there have been accusations from some parents (including me) that the standards seem to be dropping again, following the Jamie Oliver campaign.

Smaller portions of cheese pasties, bacon baguettes, doughnuts and chocolate crunch cake are not going to save the children from obesity. Bigger portions of healthier food might. Oh – but what of the cost implications?

Now, excuse me, as I have to go and decorate a chocolate cake I’ve just made…