School food then and now. Have we won the fight?

Jeanette Orrey, Co-founder, Food for Life

Jeanette OrreyThere has been so much written about the journey of school food, the good the bad and definitely the ugly – just look at the photo above of the awful meal in the flight tray. While it is clear that we have come a long way from the dark, turkey-twizzler filled days I saw when I was a school cook, I believe there is still a long way to go.

With more than one in five children overweight or obese when they start primary school, rising to one in three by the time they leave, not to mention obesity prevalence in children in the most deprived areas of the country twice that of children in the least deprived areas it’s clear to see that not all children are enjoying good, fresh food that is cooked from scratch, learning how their food is produced, how to cook and grow it and what makes a healthy diet. 

Sadly I still receive emails, letters and social media messages from concerned parents, teachers and frustrated school cooks asking how they can help improve the food at their children’s school. I’ve also seen for myself menus that do not meet school food standards, catering staff receiving little or no support from senior management and even parents who are angry about changes being made to improve school food. 

Children eating

But it’s not all bad. Working in the industry myself through my role as Co-Founder for Food for Life, I regularly see first-hand some fantastic Food for Life schools where food is integrated into the curriculum by wonderful and inspiring head teachers and where catering staff are fully part of the school, serving up delicious, fresh and healthy school meals day after day. I see school gardens springing up all over the country, schools with chickens and pigs and schools that open their doors to the wider community, sharing their passion and learning with parents, grandparents and beyond. These schools are really flying the flag for school food and I am so proud of them all. 

I am also continually inspired and encouraged by the school meals workforce who in my mind have met and risen to every challenge thrown at them by what is often an unpredictable industry. I must say that unless you work in the school meals sector, it is very difficult to understand its foibles. There are just so many variables!
So where are we now?

We are living in a very different world to the one from 10 years ago. So much has changed, and the majority of it has been for the better, (and for that I am truly grateful) but I also know we have a long way to go - good food should have no boundaries.

However, what hasn’t changed is the need for healthy, wholesome food for every single child. No child should go hungry in 2017, no matter where they are in the world.

It’s not difficult to feed children well if you have the will, the partnerships and the passion. These are all things that Food for Life and the School Meals Catering Service have in spades, but until we have full commitment from everyone, from parents, right up to the government nothing will change. 

What do you think of the food in your children’s school? What more could be done to improve it? I would love to hear what you think – Tweet me with your thoughts @JeanetteOrrey.


  • Martin Moorman says:

    This is probably the most sensible article I've read during my half term holiday. It makes total sense and I once again applaud Jeanette for speaking up on the Big Food Issue in Schools.
    As educators we have a major role to play in influencing our young people to make sensible, and healthy life long food choices. I want to encourage all school leaders to take a closer look at what they are presenting their students, food wise on a daily basis.
    Using a car engine analogy, I strongly suspect that few school leaders would put second rate fuel into their engines, but it appears though that there are still a number of schools who don't really take food quality seriously enough.
    In the same way as I suspect that we all want quality fuel for our cars, so I would encourage school leaders to seriously consider what their school meals service is providing for their pupils. Output is majorly influenced by input: so if you want the best academic output from your students, then maybe it is time to consider how you can influence their food input better.
    Ther is still a lot to do......but it's an improving picture

  • ABU EESA ASIF says:

    Reading what Jeanette has written above and me regularly checking what schools are offering their Pupils makes me what to be a child again. I am not upset at all of what I was fed at school, I actually enjoyed it because it was different from the Asian food I would get at home.
    I am happy to see so much focus now on quality the hard work that is being put into school meals.

    Keep up the good work Jeanette & everyone who is helping to reform school meals around the Globe..

    Give yourselves a tap on the back.

    Kind regards,

    Abu-Eesa ASIF (Birmingham).

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