How good are your kids’ school dinners?

We visited Jewish primary schools to investigate the quality of school meals on offer. The results ranged from outstanding to decidedly average


By Denise Phillips, March 26, 2009
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When caterers, teachers and parents work together, the results can be outstanding for children

When caterers, teachers and parents work together, the results can be outstanding for children

What are your memories of school food? Mushy peas, mashed potato with cold cuts and the ever-present portion of chips? Post Jamie Oliver’s school-dinner revolution, I went to visit eight Jewish primary schools to review what was on the menu and how well the message about eating healthy was being understood and acted upon.

Quality was uneven with some schools failing to provide what I would regard as either the right attitude or the right food for their pupils.

On the positive side, those schools that have their lunches provided by Cater Plus were just fantastic. The children are happy and are eating well and the food is so good that most teachers eat the same meals. School lunches cost approximately £2 per child, and when you consider the fact that a kosher sandwich alone can cost about the same, these meals are incredible value.

Most schools banned squash and provided only water. There was a universal policy of no nuts and no salt, and ketchup is rarely seen on the tables.

Overall I was very impressed by the attitude of the majority of head teachers who put the content of lunch high on their agenda.

So there are plenty of good examples to follow, but a school can only do so much itself to reduce childhood obesity and bad food habits. Parents need to reinforce healthy eating by providing balanced meals at home and removing bad snacks and treats.

Rosh Pinah (Catered by Cater Plus)
Lunch Facility: Hot lunch with many healthy options (few ate packed lunch). Meat and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 10
Standard of lunch: 10
Atmosphere in lunch hall: 10
Children’s view: 10
Initiatives: There are culinary themes like Chinese, a modified timetable to cope with the hungry hour before lunch and lots of involvement of the parents.

Michael Sobell Sinai School (Catered by Cater Plus)
Lunch facility: Hot lunch with many healthy options (few ate packed lunches). Meat and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 10
Standard of lunch: 10
Atmosphere in lunch hall: 10
Children’s view: 9
Initiatives: School council has great impact on menus. There is regular monitoring, parent involvement, hot soup is allowed.

Clore Tikvah (Catered by Eden Catering)
Lunch facility: Hot lunch with many healthy options, plus some packed. lunches. Meat and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 10
Standard of lunch: 10
Atmosphere in lunch hall: 9
Children’s view: 9
Initiatives: There are parent taster evenings, pupil surveys, a packed-lunch policy of no jam or chocolate spread. Parents are encouraged to report back. There are cookery classes.

Wolfson Hillel Primary School (Catered by Cater Plus)
Lunch facility: Hot lunch with great healthy options, no packed lunch.
Meat and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 10
Standard of lunch: 10
Atmosphere in lunch hall: 10
Children’s view: 10
Initiatives: There are charts to show the healthy food balance in the dining room, lunch trays with sections for protein, starch and vegetables, individual teacher monitoring on the lunch line to ensure everyone has a balanced meal. There is a vegetable patch in the grounds.

Independent Jewish Primary School (Catered by Barnet Kosher Kitchen)
Lunch facility: 50 per cent school lunch, 50 per cent packed lunch.
Meat and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 5
Standard of lunch: 5
Atmosphere in lunch hall: 6
Children’s View: 6
Initiatives: The PTA is trying to improve the facility. There is no oven, so the school relies on bought-in food. There is a salad bar but it is not supervised.

Akiva Centre, Sternberg Centre (Catered by Cater Plus)
Lunch facility: Meat and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 10
Standard of lunch: 10
Atmosphere at lunch: 9
Children’s view: 10
Special Initiatives: There are menu themes, a school council, and cookery classes in school.

Kerem School (Catered by Paul Berlin)
Lunch facility: Hot lunch with few options. Meat and vegetarian.
Teacher attitude: 7
Standard of lunch: 5
Atmosphere at lunch: 6
Children’s view: 6
Special Initiatives: Does review meals termly. Private school with a more flexible financial policy.

Hertsmere Jewish Primary School (Catered by Cater Plus)
Lunch facility: Hot and cold lunch. No packed lunches. Dairy and vegetarian options.
Teacher attitude: 10
Standard of lunch: 10
Atmosphere at lunch: 10
Children’s view: 10
Initiatives: There are culinary themes. Hot lunches are served from age four with regular menu changes which encourage good eating habits from the start.

Top of the class

Typical Cater Plus options include:

Protein salad: Tuna mayonnaise, boiled egg or salami.
Salad bar: Lettuce, tomato, grated carrot, potato salad or pasta salad.
Main course: Beef bolognaise or quorn stir-fry.
Carbohydrate: Spaghetti or jacket potato.
Vegetables: Green beans, sweetcorn.
Pudding: Fruit from the basket.

    Last updated: 12:30pm, March 26 2009