Top marks in schools audit!

During the 2019 autumn term, Public Health England commissioned an audit of school food in randomly selected primary and secondary schools in Waltham Forest.  Key findings show that we've outperformed in-house and commercial providers in both primary and secondary schools. Primary schools across the borough were more frequently in compliance with the school food standards than secondary schools. Primary schools had higher standards than secondary schools for promoting healthy choices and encouraging healthy eating, many schools using our services were able to show examples of best practice in this area.

In our primary schools we achieved 100% in the food-based standards for school lunches. For example, each week we provided three or more different starchy foods including wholegrain pasta, mixed rice and freshly baked wholemeal bread across our menu cycle. Whereas only 60% of schools with their own in-house service and one commercial provider frequently are not providing wholegrain options on their menus and some were not aware that this is a mandatory standard.

Our starchy food is cooked in fat or oil no more than two days each week. When on site staff were questioned about cooking methods it became clear that only 40% of commercial and school in-house providers met this standard.

In the Fruit and Vegetable category we achieved 100% for the standards set compared to only 40% of our competitors. It was found that although often the menus appeared to be compliant however upon inspection of recipe books (where available) it was clear that the fruit content falls far below the 50% required to meet the target. Attention was drawn to one commercial provider and a school in-house provider who frequently did not meet this standard.

Oily fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which makes them the healthiest seafood and are known to promote brain health. We provide oily fish at least once a week on the menu cycle however the audit found that commercial providers are less aware of this standard with, one provider does not provide oily fish on their menu.

Appropriately planned vegetarian diets are not only nutritionally beneficial and may prevent and treat certain diseases, but they are also more environmentally sustainable because they use fewer natural resources than diets rich in animal products. For provision for vegetarians we reached 100% where only 40% of commercial and school in-house provides hit this standard.

The audit found that vegetarian sources of protein are poorly understood among some providers and vegetarian options are sometimes not given as much priority/thought as main meals. Some commercial providers do not provide a source of protein at all for their vegetarian meals or frequently rely on cheese as a protein source.

Our desserts, cakes and biscuits are provided at lunchtime, none contain any confectionery. In contrast 60% of other sites did not reached this target for example two sites were observed using confectionery in desserts such as chocolate chips.

Allergies can sometimes be a life-threatening condition and in acknowledgement of this we achieved 100% for allergen awareness and cater for allergies safely. However other providers only reached 20% with many not having basic allergy requirements.

Encouraging healthy eating at a young age helps develop life-long good eating practices. Going forward, Public Health will be working with all schools and caterers in the audit to ensure that the food offer across the school day is fully compliant and that healthy choices are encouraged. Waltham Forest Catering will continue to maintain the high standards already in place to ensure the pupils we support have a great start.