Council rolls out healthier school dinners after scooping top food award

  • Tower Hamlets comes joint first for Best Overall Borough in Sustain’s Beyond the Food Bank annual league table.
  • Soil Foundation Gold Food for Life Award renewed, with 87% of school meals freshly prepared.
  • Healthier school menus rolled out to 87 schools.

Tower Hamlets Council’s catering services, which serves meals to approximately 30,000 students across 87 schools, has started serving new healthier meals.  

The revised menu comes following an evaluation by three former employees of Jamie Oliver who are members of the council's school meal working group.

They visited the council’s primary and secondary schools over two months to see how they could improve school dinners. The team looked at the consistency of the food that was served and at ways to reduce sugar, increase vegetables and how to improve food presentation.

Mayor John Biggs visited Kobi Nazrul school on Monday 5 November to sample the new menu and chat with students.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets said: “I’m pleased to see these new menus rolled out to schools, in keeping with our pledge to reduce sugar and improve healthy options.

This will ensure children are well nourished throughout the day, making a positive impact on their overall wellbeing, ability to focus and provide a foundation to live healthier lives. Despite government cuts to our funding we have protected funding to provide free school meals to children in the borough.

Three specific sugar reduction measures were agreed including:

  • Tuck shops will now offer baked chicken goujons, sweet potato wedges and fresh fruit salad pots instead of cakes, pastries and other sweets.
  • Yogurt-based deserts will have reduced sugar content.
  • Homemade cake and custard desserts will be offered just once a week in both primary and secondary schools with cheese and crackers, organic yoghurts and fresh fruit platters offered daily.

Other ‘veg-improvement’ changes include:

  • A tomato sauce with six or seven 'hidden vegetables' to be used in at least two recipes per week.
  • Salad bars to remove pasta, potato and egg-based salads and replace with a range of fresh vegetable options.

The council recently received two huge accolades for improving its food offer.

Tower Hamlets has come joint-first for the ‘Best Overall Borough’ in this year’s Beyond the Food Bank league table that evaluates all 33 boroughs across healthy and sustainable food initiatives. Led by Sustain, it evaluates many initiatives including the promotion of breastfeeding, Healthy Start vitamins, free school meals and the implementation of a food poverty action plan.

Ben Reynolds, Deputy CEO of food charity Sustain, commented: “Food poverty, especially in a wealthy city like London, is unacceptable and has been exacerbated by welfare reforms. Boroughs across the capital owe it to their residents to do everything within their power to reduce this. Sustain is pleased to see boroughs like Tower Hamlets actively working to avert food poverty for its residents particularly by taking significant action to reduce holiday hunger and improve implementation and uptake of free school meals."

The council also had its Soil Foundation Gold Food for Life Award renewed across primary schools and nurseries, which is the highest standard for school meals in their accreditation scheme. Less than 5% of local authorities have this award.   

To obtain a gold award at least 15% of the ingredients provided in school menus must be organic.

Cllr Denise Jones, Cabinet Member for Health, Adults and Community said: “It is great to be recognised independently for the incredible work that our catering services have done, ensuring meals are of the highest quality. We provide fresh, healthy sustainable food, promoting the use of free range meat and dairy and where possible, using seasonal, local and traceable produce.”