North Yorkshire County Council is about to celebrate 30 years of campaigning about healthy eating in schools.
Long before Jamie Oliver began his crusade to rid the nation’s schools of turkey twizzlers, the county council campaigned on the importance of eating fresh food, fruit and vegetables.
Thirty years ago a school meals mascot in the form of a six-foot carrot called Herbie was created as a fun way to take the fresh, healthy foods message into schools for children from the youngest age and improve school meals take-up.
Herbie, who celebrates his 30th birthday on 4 November, still makes regular school visits singing songs, telling stories about “Healthy Eating Really Better in Everyway”. He became central to the strategy to increase meal numbers, buy better quality food and introduce more salads and healthier options.
Over this period, North Yorkshire County Caterers, the school meals service, has been at the forefront nationally of pushing ahead with its policy of buying local, fresh food for the nutritional benefit of the county’s children as well as supporting local farms, growers and suppliers.
County Councillor Arthur Barker, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools, said:
People like Jamie Oliver have done much to promote the importance of children getting access to freshly produced food rich in fruit and vegetables in their school meals, but in North Yorkshire we have been developing our fresh, locally procured food policy for many years – way ahead of the game.
Not only is this good for children and young people who can enjoy freshly prepared, high-quality food for their school meal, but it is also good for the local economy by keeping money in the region, supporting local and British farmers and creating employment for growers and suppliers.
School meals take-up has gone from 21 per cent to 70 per cent over the last 30 years and this year North Yorkshire’s school meal service will spend nearly £6 million on food supporting local and regional producers to provide top quality, fresh ingredients for 330 schools across North Yorkshire.
All suppliers of food to North Yorkshire County Caterers are based in the region with the majority being family owned businesses local to the county.
Only fresh meat and poultry is used in school dinners, 60 per cent of which is sourced from within the county boundary, 90 per cent from within the region and all from the North of England.
All the meat and poultry meets the requirement of being “home-killed” and UK welfare standards. Full traceability is required of all meat products. This means we know the farms where meat and poultry has been bred and reared.
All processed meats, including sausages and cooked and sliced meats, are made by Gilmoors near Harrogate, which supplies fresh meat and poultry using regionally sourced products. For example, chicken breasts and whole chickens are sourced from a Driffield company which grows the wheat and barley to mill its own feed.
Half of all fruit and vegetables are also sourced from the north of England with plans to increase the percentage in coming years.
Most seasonal salad requirements are met by growers in the Humberside region; this includes the use of speciality growers around the Thirsk area for products as herbs and mushrooms.
All eggs are free range and come from East Yorkshire. North Yorkshire County Caterers has received a “Good Egg Award” for its free range policy from the animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming.
Frozen vegetables are sourced from a grower in the south of the region who not only grows the produce but also freezes it in a freezing station on the farm.
Dairy ice cream is made by a family business based in Filey.
The great majority of cheese is sourced from Lancashire and made with local milk.
Brian Fawcett is head of Gilmoor Foods, which has supplied fresh and processed meats to North Yorkshire’s school kitchens for the last ten years. North Yorkshire County Caterers, he said, have been ahead of the game and he estimates that his contract for fresh, locally sourced produce is putting around £2m a year into the local farming economy.
Brian Fawcett is head of Gilmoor Foods said:
County Caterers pioneered healthy eating before Jamie Oliver got out of short trousers. Schools are going back to basics, making their own breads, salads, lasagnes and cottage pies and the uptake of school meals has risen year on year during the time of my contract. We supply schools with all the raw materials, most of which come from within a 60-mile radius.
The pork comes from York and Selby auctions. We process that into sausages. We cure the pork legs into ham and cook and slice it for sandwiches. The beef comes mostly from Thirsk, Northallerton and Darlington. They all carry the Red Tractor symbol, which ensures the food is traceable, safe to eat and has been produced responsibly. All the meat we buy has full traceability. We can trace everything back to the farm.
Bob Davies is the chef at Easingwold School where the school meal take-up is now 90 per cent. Bob’s kitchen serves 900 meals a day, all made fresh on the school premises, with salads and hot meals, often with a range of international dishes, including curries and Mexican food. All the bread is also made by staff who start their day at 6.30am.
Bob, who won the BBC Food and Farming Public Caterer of the Year Award two years ago. said:
I am totally for the fresh, locally sourced food policy we have for schools in North Yorkshire,” “All our meals are nutritionally balanced and we have increased the range of food we offer to students. They love the food here. I can take pride in my work knowing that we are giving students good food. We want them to have a good education and to learn well they need to eat well.