It's meals that count. A lunch time school dinner should give kids a third of their daily nutritional requirements. That's why it should be packed with not only fresh produce, but all the proteins, minerals and vitamins needed for health and growth. Diet also affects kids' behaviour, their physical and mental development, and their ability to learn - another good reason to ban the junk and go fresh and tasty.
Recently, many suppliers to Scottish schools had to re-develop their food products. Why? Because they weren't nutritious enough to meet their newly introduced basic standard. So what does that mean kids in England are getting?
Schools urgently need clear nutritional standards to help them improve school dinners. Plus, a minimum threshold would automatically exclude a lot of junk foods from school meals. And Ofsted needs the standards if school meals are going to be included in their inspections from Autumn 2005. Kids need better food now!
This conscientious, dedicated but mostly invisible part of the workforce determine the health of our future adult population. Let's invest in them.
Let's make being a dinner lady into a true vocation. Introduce real qualifications. Commit money for core skills training.
Every new cook entering a school kitchen should have basic cooking and food preparation skills (many of the younger staff working in school kitchens don't). Training will also keep them motivated, in touch with each other, and up-to-date with new nutritional advice, healthy menus and kitchen management skills. In short, they'll feel proud of their work and feel like they're making a difference.
Introduce a whole school approach to food education. Many of the kids Jamie gets coming in for training at 15 can tell you about drugs but don't know what celery or courgette tastes like, let alone how and where they're grown and how to cook them. This is because they don't learn about food at school.
Put cookery back on the curriculum. Teach kids how food comes from farms, not packets. Link lessons to the school dinners menu. Train teachers, parents and carers. Take FMB home!
On average, dinner ladies have between 35p and 45p to spend on food per meal, the cost of a bag of crisps. They need at least double that, 70p per child, to provide a varied and nutritionally balanced menu. Why doesn't the government commit specific new funding for school meals? More money for overtime for dinner ladies. More money for training kitchen staff to keep them motivated. More money for kitchen upgrades and equipment. More money to put better food on the plate, basically.