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Sheffield schools strive to provide good food for all

Food for Life school At a time when access to good food and family budgets are front of mind, a programme working across Sheffield is having impact where it is most needed. 

Thanks to a commission from Sheffield City Council, the Eat Smart Sheffield programme – in collaboration with the leading sustainable food charity Food for Life (part of the Soil Association) - has been working with over 80 schools across the city to improve food access, increase school meal take up and support schools to embed a Whole School Approach to food and nutrition.

Developed and implemented by Learn Sheffield, this 5-year programme is effecting positive change in primary, secondary and special schools across the city, and ultimately encouraging us all to ‘eat smart’. 

Reassurance for parents 

As a result of this work, 70% of children in Sheffield have access to Food for Life Served Here certified meals, which guarantees that the school lunch is freshly prepared, prioritises high welfare, local and sustainable ingredients, and is free of hidden additives.  

This means nearly 20,000 meals a day are provided in Sheffield that are guaranteed to meet School Food Standards, as well as a comprehensive set of accredited requirements to support physical and mental health, and environmental sustainability. 

“Sheffield City Council are committed to promoting food that supports our health, supports our local economy and that doesn't harm our planet. The partnership with Eat Smart Sheffield and Food for Life is hugely beneficial as it helps schools to do exactly this.” said Jessica Wilson, Health Improvement Principal, Sheffield City Council. 

Working with schools 

Of the 80 schools who have engaged with Eat Smart Sheffield, over 50 have enrolled for the Food for Life School Award, evidencing their will to embed a Whole School Approach to food and nutrition. Nine of these schools have already achieved their Food for Life Bronze Award, with one school – Lowedges Junior Academy – becoming the first in Sheffield to reach Silver; an amazing achievement!  

By accessing school meals, involving parents and pupils in school food policies, and having cooking and gardening clubs, schools working with Eat Smart Sheffield can help families strike a balance between freshly prepared, nutritious food and unhealthier foods that are higher in fat, salt and sugar.

“It’s been great working with Eat Smart Sheffield over the last few years and to see the drive, determination and passion to engage with schools in many areas of the city and particularly in relation to the Food for Life programme” said Deborah Brebner, School Food Service, Sheffield City Council.   

School training and support 

A fundamental building block in Food for Life’s approach revolves around building up the knowledge, skills and confidence of teachers so that they can positively influence the school food environment. Nearly 70 teachers have accessed training in order to integrate good food throughout schools; from the curriculum to the school garden, from school meals and lunchboxes, to setting up pupil-led groups and workshops.  

Lisa Aldwin, Programme Manager at Eat Smart Sheffield said, “We know that investing in teachers and their training pays dividends across the whole school.  It’s great that our partnership with Food for Life gives access to a range of courses including face-to-face group sessions, 1-1 bespoke support, and online training to suit all needs.” 

Getting Free School Meals to those who need them 

Encouraging the take up of school meals is a key component of the programme, and Sheffield is one of only a handful of UK councils who operate a system where eligible pupils are automatically enrolled for Free School Meals. It is said that this model increases take-up, reduces stigma and gives many children access to a free 2-course nutritious school meal every day.  

The Food for Life Programme supports schools to communicate the value of a healthy, hot school lunch and help ensure families access them, particularly during these challenging times.  

All children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 can have a free school meal as part of the Governments’ Universal Free School Meals, and many children in Years 3 – 6 are entitled to means-tested Free School Meals – just ask your school or contact Sheffield City Council for details.  

To read more about the impact of the Food for Life Programme and partnership with Learn Sheffield and Sheffield City Council you can read the three-year impact report here