We’ve come a long way from turkey twizzlers and tuck shops to the healthy meals school pupils enjoy today.
Ever since Jamie Oliver propelled school dinners to the top of the national agenda, more thought than ever has gone into what our children eat.
But it doesn’t just stop at health – though that’s always the priority. Taste is just as important. If children think healthy food can’t compare with foods dripping with saturated fats then they might not stick with it outside school.
But there’s no shame in learning from the foods popular with pupils and that’s exactly what Caterlink, the school dinner provider for the Royal Borough, has set out to do for its new school meals, which will be introduced as summer approaches.
I was invited with fellow reporter Grace Witherden to the Royal Borough’s offices to see parents and their children get a taste of what pupils will be eating.
Wendy Denham, senior support manager at Caterlink, explained: “It is important parents can try what their children are eating.
“Some of the parents think the school meals are the same as when they were young.
“We’re here to show they’re not.”
First, I look at the ‘Mexican kitchen’ selection, which includes fajitas, and a Nando’s-inspired chicken range.
I try a piri-piri chicken leg and it genuinely does taste like Nando’s. Saying that does not conjure the right image – it’s not the large chunks of poultry you get served in that restaurant, but it is still satisfying nonetheless.
Next, I try a staple of the school dinner, the crème de la crème of canteen catering – bangers and mash, a much-loved classic from my school days.
I’m served a sample of a sausage and a lump of mash in a plastic container, and it doesn’t disappoint – although I suppose it’s hard to really mess up something that is pretty simple.
Other stalls demonstrate treats such as gluten-free cakes and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Also here are some of the suppliers to Caterlink, including Charles Tilley, business development manager for John Sheppard Butchers.
He said: “Meat is of course very important. They need to learn what different types of meat are, what they enjoy and what benefits they have.”
Afterwards, I take part in a taste test – it’s designed for the schoolchildren, who will turn up later, but they let me try it as part of their dummy run.
I’m sat down with small paper cups in front of me, each containing something different – dark chocolate, a small piece of lemon, a crisp, and so on.
I’m handed a picture of a tongue and told to identify where I can taste each piece of food on mine – for example, where I feel salty-tasting items, or bitter ones.
Afterwards I try a green-flavoured jelly which I swear tastes like lime – it’s actually pineapple.
It’s all designed to show children that just because something looks a certain way doesn’t mean it won’t taste nice.
This was a great idea from the Royal Borough and Caterlink, and this kind of transparency when it comes to children’s health will undoubtedly please parents.
Watch a video of Will's visit below.
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