In the post-Jamie's School Dinners era, Wolfson Hillel Jewish Primary School in Southgate is a trailblazer. Head teacher Jason Marantz and his team, have made school meals a priority. With not a turkey twizzler in sight, it is an example for every school on how to operate nutritious and successful school dinners.
The project was initiated by Shirley Cohen, then bursar, in early 2008. Shirley retired in April of that year and her successor, Angela Shaffer (the school's business manager), continued her work on the project. Seing the link between good food and good school results, they decided to replace the school's dilapidated kitchen. The project was closely planned by a team called "The Food Forum", made up of parents, school business manager, local authority nutritionists, teachers, and the newly appointed catering company, Caterplus.
The new kitchen included state of the art steam ovens - ideal for healthy cooking. No nutrients are lost during the cooking process and no extra fat needs to be added. The texture, colour and shape of the food is also retained, unlike in a conventional oven. What is more, there is no transfer of flavours or odours between foods, so sweet and savoury dishes can be cooked at the same time, without adversely affecting the food.
Jason Marantz said "if the children eat a healthy, balanced and exciting diet they will be able to work effectively and learn well. They will behave better and feel good. A pleasant mealtime experience is also sociable which is important to our community ethos."
Menus are reviewed by nutritionists, parents, governors and the school council to ensure they are balanced. A specially appointed lunchtime manager (who is not a teacher) runs the lunch service and greets students as they arrive.
Every child's food tray is monitored to ensure a balance of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Colour coded plates for different food groups aid selection. Children with food allergies are managed and monitored by the Food Forum, and no child escapes the gentle nurturing of their well-directed advice; even fussy eaters are persuaded to fill their plates with a balanced selection.
A sample meal may include a choice of sandwich or salad option, main course, carbohydrate, vegetable, dessert or fruit. All desserts are made with reduced levels of fat and sugar. There are seasonal additions - menus at Rosh Hashanah include honey cakes and at Pesach they have a model seder. There are also special multicultural weeks, when Afro-Caribbean and Chinese events further broaden the eating habits of the children.
"Eating the Hillel Way" rules that children must enter the dining hall, get their food and eat in a well-mannered fashion and then talk softly to their table mates. It seems to work: the children sit in class groups like a family household and the atmosphere is calm and content.
Empty plates, full tummies and smiling faces are evident all around and, as importantly, teachers have remarked on improvements in the behaviour of the children, their ability to concentrate in lessons and general school conduct.
Jamie Oliver has yet to win the war on ready meals, chips and chocolate, but Jason Marantz and his team have definitely been victorious at Hillel.