Flintshire Schools could slim down menus but salad, fruit, and yoghurt stations are coming
Salad, fruit and yoghurt stations are being introduced across all Flintshire schools from September, but the overall menu could be slimmed down.
The council’s education scrutiny committee received an update on the roll-out of the Welsh Government’s universal free school meals policy.
This will eventually provide a free school meal for every primary school pupil but so far has been rolled-out to younger pupils.
Steven Jones, managing director of the council-run NEWydd Catering and Cleaning, said the service was looking to bring more home-cooked recipes and baking back to the menu. Schools also have the option to approach other providers to produce the meals.
So far 70 per cent of pupils in reception, Year 1 and Year 2 have taken up the service and the council is pushing for even more uptake among parents.
But questions were asked by councillors about the range of choice available and the nutritional value of what is being served currently.
Hawarden Ewloe Cllr Dave Mackie (Ind) said: “Do we have sufficient choice for pupils?
“If a pupil is taking a packed lunch then the mother or father can be pretty sure that the child is going to eat it.
If you’re sending your child to school and they are presented with something they don’t like, or they don’t normally eat then they do need to have choices.”
Mr Jones responded: “We do have a large choice currently but we’re looking to improve the quality of the main offer.
“We always have a meat and a vegetarian main hot offer every day. We’re looking to possibly reduce the choices that go along with that.
“For example currently we’d have the two main choices on offer, then a jacket potato with various fillings, a pasta pot with various fillings and a sandwich pot with various fillings.
“We’re looking to reduce that in order to come within the funding envelope we’ve got available to us so that we still remain with four choices every day.
“That would be the two main choices, a sandwich or another hot choice such as a pasta pot or jacket potato so we’re going to reduce that slightly.”
He added: “The most nutritious meal a child can have every day is a school meal. We don’t know what they’re sending in a packed lunch. If we can get them to take that hot offer every day then that is guaranteed to be the most nutritious.
“If they opt to take a sandwich or a pasta pot that’s not as nutritious but we are confident they are being well fed during lunchtime.”
As part of changes from September, fresh salad bars are being introduced at every school as well as fresh fruit and yoghurt stations. Every meal will be supported with fresh salad options.
This has been trialled recently with the council reporting that pupils enjoy trying food for themselves they may not have previously.
The council’s chief education officer Claire Homard said: “We have to acknowledge that some younger children may not have the confidence to try a different range of food.
“But what’s important is that Steve publishes the menu through our social media accounts so children and parents can sit down and can look at the menu cycle and identify if there’s something they don’t like, but there’s always an alternative.”
But speaking as a parent of a child who has school meals, Cilcain Cllr Andrew Parkhurst (Lib Dem) challenged the claim that a school meal was the most nutritious of the day.
He said: “I wouldn’t describe a processed piece of cheese on a highly-processed slice of white bread with a splashing of margarine as being nutritious.
“I wouldn’t describe a roast dinner which is a piece of cold meat covered in hot gravy as being appealing or appetising to anyone.
“I’m pleased that you’re looking to produce more home-cooked recipes, I think that’s a good step. I’m pleased you’re looking at the salad bar initiative.”
Cllr Parkhurst also claimed that new seating he had seen installed to meet capacity was “cumbersome”,
backless seats attached to a table unit which he felt was dangerous as children could potentially fall backwards.
Answering the concerns, Mr Jones said: “I take your point regarding the white bread and processed cheese – that is something we’re looking to improve.
“We’re looking to get more healthy options in the sandwich offer. Some of this comes down to cost unfortunately. If we wanted to get the very best quality for sandwiches, we just can’t afford it with the funding we’ve been given.”
He said that Wednesday is the most popular day of the week for many pupils as they enjoy a roast dinner, adding that meat is not served cold, but would be happy to discuss any concerns with Cllr Parkhurst.
Mr Jones said the new seating had been well-received, it folds into a small unit enabling schools to get their halls back into use after dining. He said schools had been presented with seating options and none have made complaints about their safety.
Buckley Bistre West Cllr Carolyn Preece (Lab) said that as a school governor she had also not received any complaints, and that the new seating had proved popular with staff and pupils.
Councillors noted the update.
By Rory Sheehan – Local Democracy Reporter (more here). Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com