Last month saw a hugely successful National School Meals Week, with Michelin-starred chefs offering work placements to school cooks, lively theme days driving meal uptake, and one dedicated team member running five marathons in five days
When names such as The Ritz and Rick Stein are mentioned when discussing National School Meals Week (NSMW), LACA’s annual campaign to drive awareness of school meals, you know it’s going to be a good one. But throw in the colossal challenge of running five marathons in five days – fuelled up by school meals – and sponsorship from Kraft Heinz Foodservice, and you know it’s going to be an unforgettable week.
Held from 13th-17th November, NSMW was “truly outstanding”, according to LACA’s chair of events Neil Porter, “and in my opinion was the best ever in the 24 years of holding the event”.
“Over the years, we have seen NSMW grow in its importance to the education catering industry and creating greater awareness to not only the general public, but to all the thousands of dedicated individuals who do such a great job throughout the school year,” he adds. “This has been achieved by holding high profile events such as serving school food to politicians in the House of Commons and the Welsh Assembly, serving school meals in the restaurant at the summit of Snowdon and school chefs working in Michelin star restaurants. However, what the NSMW team has produced this year has surpassed even those achievements.”
Powered by School Meals
For the first time, NSMW had the brave ambition to send NSMW team member Karen Robinson on two half-marathons a day in all 10 LACA regions in England and Wales across the Week, enjoying a school meal between her races to power her up for the next leg.
Not only did she complete it – taking a victory lap at the LACA Autumn Seminar – but she also raised £5,000 for the British Heart Foundation, the LACA chair Tim Blowers’ chosen charity.
“It was tremendous to take NSMW on the road and fully engage with the LACA membership around the country and every region deserves terrific credit for the way they worked with the NSMW team to make each individual stage a great success in its own right,” says Neil. “To see hundreds of children, parents, teaching staff, catering staff and LACA regional committee members joining Karen for part of her journey was fantastic.
“The celebration of great school food to ‘power’ Karen up for her next part of the route was equally rewarding, as it demonstrated to the best possible effect what our industry can do when it pulls together.”
In every region there were local dignitaries present, with mayors, councillors, MP’s, and Welsh Assembly members in attendance. GB athlete Jess Coulson even ran with Karen in the North West region.
Host a School Chef
“Outside of the Marathons, there was so much great activity taking place with this year’s Host a School Chef restaurants reading like the Michelin Star Guide,” says Neil.
Host a School Chef is now in its fifth year and has seen some high profile work placements set up for some of the country’s hard working school chefs. This year, however, has surpassed all others, with restaurants clamouring to offer a work station to a school chef for the day, including the Ritz London.
Tracy Healey, the 2017 LACA School Chef of the Year (SCOTY), spent the day at the Box Tree in Ilkley, while other SCOTY finalists completed a shift at other restaurants up and down the country, such as East Midlands winner Rose Wallace, who worked in the kitchens at the beautiful Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, and North West winner Sue Knight from St Johns CofE Primary who enjoyed working at the Chester Grosvenor Hotel.
Speaking ahead of her placement, Rose said: “I’m sure I’ll get some great ideas which I can bring back to share with the children in our cooking lessons and school menus and hope I can share some of my skills with the team at Chatsworth too!”
Lisa Turpin from Ellen Wilkinson Primary School joined Steve Munkley’s brigade at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, Chris Plowman from Local Food Links had an unforgettable time at Rick Stein’s original Seafood Restaurant in Sandbanks, and down in Exmouth, Michael Caines MBE was there to welcome Sarah Rowe from Woodlands Park Primary School for a shift at Lympstone Manor.
Eight chefs were hosted during the course of NSMW at the Senedd in Cardiff, including Jane Pitman from Bryn Hafren School and Shan Griffiths from Ffaldau Primary School.
Debbie Horth from Mousehold Infant School was hosted by Warwick St Social and mobile cook Emma Piggin went to Brasted’s, both in Norfolk, while Lisa Morris from Barking and Dagenham got to work alongside Alyn Williams at the Westbury Mayfair.
“It was a great insight into the working of a Michelin star restaurant kitchen,” says Lisa. “Alyn is a fantastic chef and his sous chef Tom showed me lots of different skills, which I will be taking back to our kitchen, as well as using them at home It was a wonderful and educational experience and one I will not forget in a hurry.”
Early next year, Alyn Williams will be visiting Lisa’s school, Manor Longbridge, to cook for the pupils and give a talk about being a chef.
Returning for 2018 was the school chef Twitter competition #cookeditmyselfie, although this year NSMW asked for anyone to submit their healthy lunch online using the hashtag.
“#cookeditmyselfie was immensely popular, with hundreds of entries from all LACA regions across England and Wales and this feature is most definitely here to stay,” says Neil. “The standard of entries this year has raised the bar by some distance and the images of great school meals show what terrific work is taking place across our industry.”
The idea behind the competition is to show the online community what modern day school food looks like. The winner with the best looking dish, which this year went to Ysgol Dinas Bran, also wins £500 worth of equipment or marketing support.
“We have been heavily involved with #cookeditmyselfie this year. Not many days have gone by in the past few months where we haven’t posted a meal,” says Emma Williams, catering manager at the school, part of Denbighshire County Council. “The pictures show what we do every day, the food is great and the pupils love it. We use lots of local ingredients and prepare the food with love and passion.”
A week to remember
NSMW was perfectly timed to coincide with the Soil Association’s National Roast Dinner Day, so school caterers fired up the ovens to create the perfect Wednesday roast, as well as Children in Need, which saw the creation of lots of Pudsey-themed puddings and cakes!
On a local level, schools across the country used NSMW to shout about their school meals to pupils, parents and the wider community, which would have not only driven uptake during the week but hopefully will lead to more children taking up a school meal over the coming year.
Neil says: “2018 is the LACA NSMW Silver Jubilee and we have certainly set ourselves a challenge in terms of bettering LACA NSMW2017; however as we have shown this year, whatever the challenge LACA NSMW will rise to it.”