Primary schools catering service recognised with national award

School catering teams across East Lothian are celebrating after being awarded the Food for Life Served Here Silver Award at an event at Haddington joint campus dining hall, at St Mary’s RC Primary School. The prestigious award is a nationally recognised mark of food quality for school meals and has been awarded to all of East Lothian's 37 primary schools.

Local authorities receive the award following an independent assessment and inspection to ensure the food being served in schools across the local authority is good for pupils’ health, good for the environment and good for the local economy. The scheme is run by Soil Association Scotland and funded by Scottish Government.

As the country faces a cost-of-living crisis, catering teams are under increased pressure to balanced costs, whilst school meals have become more important than ever as a nutritional safety net for pupils whose families might be struggling. At the same time, the need to tackle climate change through serving food that is sustainably produced remains paramount.

East Lothian Council has demonstrated what can be achieved despite difficult circumstances. Holding the bronze award since 2013, East Lothian catering teams ensure that a minimum of 75% of dishes are freshly prepared from unprocessed ingredients. Meals are also free from undesirable trans fats, sweeteners and additives, and use free range eggs, higher welfare meat and ingredients from sustainable and ethical sources.

To upgrade to the Food for Life Served Here Silver award, the council is now using 5% of the ingredient spend for school meals on organic produce. The council achieved this through purchasing Scottish organic milk and dairy products and swapping to local organic flour from Mungoswells farm in Drem. East Lothian Council has also accumulated points in three categories: serving ethical and environmentally friendly food, making healthy eating easier, and championing local producers.

One particular action East Lothian Council took was to trial ‘Education Corners’ in dining halls where pupils could learn about the ingredients and any seasonal produce used in dishes on the menu that day. This has enabled cooks to get really involved and promote good food within the school community. Cooks have also introduced one meat free day a week and are serving more non-meat proteins such as pulses and beans.

Tracey McConnachie, Assistant Area Officer, East Lothian Council said, “The benefit of learning about where our produce is coming from has been huge. Not only is the food we’re now serving healthier for pupils and better for the environment, the process has also really engaged and inspired our school cooks. It’s satisfying to know produce is being sourced locally and energising to think creatively about new seasonal recipes. The idea of provenance is now embedded in our day-to-day thinking. For example, we’re sourcing organic flour from Drem, potatoes from The Borders, strawberries from Fife and leeks from East Lothian. It’s great to know the money the council is spending is going back into the local community.”

Sarah Duley, Head of Food, Soil Association Scotland said, “We are delighted that East Lothian Council has achieved the Food for Life Served Here Silver Award for their school meals service in their primary schools. We are facing challenging times with prices going up and uncertainty about the future, but the council catering team has worked with the Food for Life Scotland team to analyse and adapt recipes and balance costs to create a menu that is nutritious for pupils, supports the council’s broader environmental goals and invests in the local economy. This is an inspiring achievement that shows what is possible.”

Cllr Fiona Dugdale, Cabinet Spokesperson for Education and Children's and Family Services added: “The School Meals service provides nutritious lunches enjoyed by our primary school pupils across the county. The achievement of the Silver Award recognises both the commitment and skills of our school kitchen staff to create fresh meals daily and the successful procurement of sourcing as much locally grown and produced ingredients as possible.”

Published: Wednesday, 5th October 2022