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Scruff: I did say that this wasn’t the …

Comment posted Lochgilphead primary pupil’s internet exposure of poor school meals goes viral by Dr Douglas McKenzie.

Scruff: I did say that this wasn’t the most healthy of the various meals on the menu but it what was on today. Have a look at the other choices on the monthly menu.

Without analysing the food it is difficult to give you a break down of the nutritional balance but the burger wasn’t fatty, the bun appeared fresh and it was potato wedges not chips: lower fat as they are not fried. I cannot comment on the salt content except to say that it did not taste particularly salty (we don’t normally cook with salt so we tend to be sensitive to it in prepared foods), nor was I noticeably thirsty afterwards.

Because of the advanced booking system then parents have the option of a packed lunch if they don’t like any of the choices and they can opt in or out on a daily basis.

Presentation is important with food and teh plates at Barcaldine certainly looked more appealing than Martha’s pizza and solitary croquet. and a crucial difference was that the children at Barcaldine were not complaining about their food whereas Martha was. The portions were good (Martha complained she wasn’t getting enough) and they had plenty of time to eat their lunch (Martha complained she was being rushed).

I would love to see all our weans sitting down to some Aberdeen Angus fillets, sea bass and perhaps some stuffed aubergines but that is probably asking a bit too much! If the weans were sitting down to burgers and wedgies every meal I would be concerned but you have to look at the meals in relation to the whole menu and remember that there was also fresh salad, bread and fruit available pretty much ad libitum.

The pictures showed what the children had chosen so the amount of peas were what they wanted and there were plenty left over.

Could the menu be improved? yes, of course but am I concerned over its overall balance and sufficiency? No, not really.

Your last point was about the difference between small schools and large schools and I have to agree. The small school can deliver the attention to individual needs that is often lost in the large “super” primaries. Question is, how can we produce a small school ethos in the large schools in relation to eating? I think many of the problems that Martha’s project highlighted seem to relate to the mechanics of feeding so many children in such a short time: this tends to make it a fuelling exercise rather than a dining experience.

What I would criticise is ABC’s handling of this whole episode. Rather than use the furore to show what was really available, the ABC spokesperson decided to shoot the messenger. When the messenger is a cute nine year old you have to marvel at the sheer gormlessness of our council’s communications effort.

Dr Douglas McKenzie also commented

  • Robert: I’m not sure about LJC but at Oban High there just isn’t the seating or catering capacity for all the children to dine in the school. The first years all have to stay in but after that I get the impression that the children are pretty much encouraged to go into town. A very different scenario from when I was a lad when there was always sufficient capacity in the school (albeit a bit rushed) to feed all the pupils. This lack of provisioning capacity at the secondaries concerns me.

    A thing that we haven’t really touched on here is pupil choice. One thing that I did agree with the hapless Council spokesperson on is the importance of teaching children about how to make healthy choices for themselves so that it doesn’t matter if they eat in or out. Of course the reality is that children often make poor choices, partly driven by the “tastiness” and convenience of snack foods which are often the only foods they can sensibly buy given the time restraints on their lunch hour.

    Mind you, let him who has never bought junk food when driving cast the first doughnut!

  • Sorry Scruff – I don’t mean to sound patronising. As I’ve said before, this is an imperfect medium for conveying emotions and intentions.

    One comment you had made that I hadn’t picked up on was your sensible suggestion that the salad, veg and bread all went out with the “main” meal rather than be brought round afterwards. Thinking about this, I suspect it is done this way to ensure the hot food is distributed as quickly as possible to help prevent it becoming cold. The other issue is the size of the serving plates which means there isn’t enough room on them for all the food at the same time (something the dinner lady commented on). No easy solution to this as when you change one thing you create a different problem (eg larger plates, more room for food, more difficult for younger children to carry, more food on floor).

    Food and nutrition is an emotive subject, particularly when our children are involved and people have very different views as to what is good and what is not. I remember the story of mums coming to the school fence to hurl burgers and chips into their weans when their school introduced a healthy food policy. My concern in going over to Barcaldine to see the lunch was to check that I wasn’t seeing the same sort of problems that Martha’s pictures suggested were going on at Lochgilphead. The results were reassuring and I’m happy that the children are receiving enough food and that it is both attractive and nutritious. I thought your comment on provenance was insightful: it would be good if the Council would give us information on where meat products are actually coming from.

    I think Martha’s wee project has been hugely beneficial in raising the topic of the composition and sufficiency of the food our children are receiving. More parental (and pupil!) involvement in these discussions the better.

  • Here is a link to the pictures I took at lunchtime today:

    School Lunches : Barcaldine style

    what they do not show are the plates of fresh bread, cut fruit and salad that was brought round to the children at their tables .

  • I did take pictures but there is no facility to load these directly onto FA. If FA want to support a page showing typical meals then I’m happy to contribute my pictures to them.

    I would encourage all the other PA chairs to do the same as I did(and perhaps on a regular but random basis). I think we as parents have a responsibility to ensure that our children are being well fed and to have the reassurance that they are.

  • In the interests of research, I’ve just been to Barcaldine to see what was on offer for lunch. I went in my role as Chair of the Parent Council and with the permission of the HT in case anyone thinks they can just wander into our schools looking for a free meal!

    Primary preparation of food is made at Lochnell primary then the meals driven out to Barcaldine where any secondary preparation is made and the food served.

    The system is that a monthly menu is prepared for the next period – see here:

    The weans then choose between the various options and this is related back to the school so that only the meals actually ordered by the weans are delivered. If the weans don’t fancy any of the options of a specific day then they can bring in a packed lunch.

    By the kindness of the dinner lady I was able to sample what was on offer (ie I ate her lunch!). Today wasn’t perhaps the healthiest on offer (at least in terms of the main courses) in that the two options were a burger in a roll or an omelette. Most of the weans went for the burger, as I did. The burger itself tasted fine. Accompanying the burger were peas and potato wedges. Both were in plentiful supply and both tasted good – the peas in particular were firm and lightly cooked so no soggy overcooked peas here. With the omelette, the weans could have the peas and wedges but also cheese (though this was also offered to the burger eaters).

    The pudding was either a yoghurt or a buttered pancake with jam if they wanted it. For drinks the children could either have a glass of water or a carton of milk. The children were served individually then the dinner lady came round and offered all of them additional salad and chopped fruit. The salad was good: a mix of leaves, tomatoes, chopped peppers and pickled onions and beetroot were also available (and eaten!). The fruit was either a slice of melon or orange. Bread was also freely available. The weans were invited up for seconds.

    I found the food good to eat and was pretty full by the end of it. The children were not rushed at all and most took about 30 minutes to finish their lunch (from the start of serving to them all finishing). The food looked attractive, was fresh and there was plenty of it. I thought it was good value for £2 per meal.

    I asked the children about the food and they felt that portion sizes had improved of late (they put this down to the previous P7’s being ravenous locusts!) and they had no complaints about either the variety or the amount available.

    Talking to the teachers, they reckoned the food was good but bemoaned the loss of the free fruit that they used to receive which could be used as an educational aid (as well as a valuable source of nutrition!). The presence of fruit on the menu was very welcome but cannot be used to make smoothies (for instance) for the whole class.

    Looking over the menu more generally, there are occasional things that are questionable (ice lollies for one) but these are more than balanced up by the presence of fruit, fresh bread and salads. Having looked over arrangements at Barcaldine, I am satisfied that feeding arrangements are not just adequate but good and represent good value for money at £2 per meal.

    In short, a very different picture from that making the headlines.

    (thanks to the staff and pupils at Barcaldine for making me welcome this lunchtime)

Recent comments by Dr Douglas McKenzie

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    Your position is completely untenable.

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    This vendetta against Mr Russell and the SNP is destroying FA’s credibility and I have to confess that I’m seriously considering whether or not to continue reading FA (which will cheer Malcolm up if nothing else). I for one am becoming increasingly disenchanted by the constant negativity and sheer nastiness that has crept into this blog. I say that with a lot more sorrow than anger because I think that FA could have been great and indeed still could but there has to be a degree of balance, civility and indeed humour. All we are getting here is bile and it is causing me heartburn.

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    It is just as well that Mr Russell has broad shoulders!

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