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LACA reviews strategy & focus at Spring Seminar

08 May 2024
At its Spring Seminar in Cannock on April 26th, UK school meals organisation LACA provided members with a review of achievements and a look forward to the rest of 2024.

Anita Brown, LACA national chair, began by re-emphasising the importance of its campaign titled ‘The Sums Don’t Add Up’.

“The £2.53 we get in England is so much less than the other nations. Even in London it’s going up to more than £3 in September. Our key request is £3 meal cost for England.

“Funding has gone up by up to 10% for school meals on average from 2019-2024, but food prices have gone up more than 50% over the same period,” she said.

This was the message given to 21 MPs who attended the Great School Lunch event that LACA organised recently at the House of Commons.

“We want to see UFSM for all children whose parents receive Universal Credit and we want school meals funding ring-fenced, because some schools use some of it for other things.”

Mark Sargeant
She then introduced the newly appointed LACA Ambassador Mark Sergeant to the 80 delegates.

He said: “Every child deserves the chance to be fed decently. I see it as feeding the future – as children are the future.

“The situation right now is not fair on children, and it’s not fair on school caterers who really struggle to provide good food with so little funding. It also makes no sense that there is a different level of funding for school meals across the four nations.

“We’ve got to get the money side of things really sorted out, but I want to help be part of what you do to help school chefs do their job and feel good about the important role they play in helping children develop.”

Members were reminded that LACA had signed up to be part of the events marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II. The theme is to serve fish & chips on June 6th and caterers can access lots of promotional resources online.

NSMW plans for 2024
National School Meals Week will run this year from November 11-15, with plans to feature a Chef’s Round Table that would include the 2024 School Chef of the Year winner. Another idea is to hold a Great School Lunch at The Senedd in Wales, as by then Judith Gregory, current vice chair, will have become chair of LACA.

Social media
Gail Walker of Open Door PR reported that over the last 18 months LACA had grown its social media following from just over 9,000 to more than 13,000, recording 1,1m page impressions.

She said that, importantly, LACA’s average engagement in postings was over 5%, which compares to an average across all social media of only about 1%.

Secondary school meals study
Alexandra Dobell from the University of Birmingham, reported on recent work the university had carried out asking secondary students, caterers, teachers, parents what needed to be done to improve school meals.

They identified increased funding, the ring-fencing of school food funding, joined-up leadership to align a national food strategy and education, and increased student engagement.

Their ideas to improve the meal offer included modernised menus, more diversity of food, making grab-and-go options healthier, more variety of fruit on offer, and a review of portion sizes for bigger/older pupils.

Case Study – Hampshire County Council Education Catering
Amanda Whatley and Karen Clarke from Hampshire County Council Education Catering talked about the county’s campaign to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among children that won the LACA Marketing Award 2023.

Amanda said: “We wanted to change the behaviour in school and at home to encourage children to eat more vegetables and fruit - 89% of children don’t eat enough and it starts at home.

“We can help them by taking away some of the risk behind getting children to try more fruit and veg. Schools are really good at getting children to learn and try things. We don’t want food waste either.

“The stickers the children get for trying fruit and veg are plastic-free and get a conversation started at home when parents ask about it along the lines of ‘if you eat that at school why don’t you eat it at home’

“It helps get the family on board and get children with good eating habits by age 11, because it’s difficult to change habits after that.”

Karen said the toolkit available to catering teams was based on VegPower’s Eat Them To Defeat Them campaign, but Hampshire negotiated a deal to create their own names for the vegetables, such as ‘blood-curdling broccoli’ and ‘callous cabbage’.

“We developed literacy and numeracy games, resources, word searches, colouring pages on our Veg Power landing page. We also went to schools to address assemblies in areas of deprivation, ran competitions for children such as moving peas from one bowl to another with chopsticks.

“And the children produced artwork that was then displayed. Tasting tables and around-the-world recipes helped generate great feedback.”

They said that more than 200,000 children were involved and 84% of parents said afterwards it was less of a struggle to get their children to eat vegetables, while every school that took part said they felt it had had an impact.

Case Study – Tower Hamlets
Jenny Pittam, head of contract catering services, told the seminar about the authority’s efforts to launching UFSM in secondary schools, which was implemented from April 2023 and then rolled out to most of the 22 secondary schools in September, benefitting 8,700 pupils.

She said £720,000 had been needed to kit out the school kitchens with new equipment, plus four pop-up pods. Funding was set at £2.90 a meal.

Some 500 pupils were surveyed and provided ‘positive feedback’, though they said they wanted curries to be authentic food, they want more variety and hate it when options run out, and dislike queueing.

LACA School Food Show