Getting children involved in menu planning and using local suppliers have proved a recipe for success at Foremarke Hall, as Sue Grief explains.

Great British Life: Main coursesMain courses (Image: foremarke hall school)

The question of what are the best ways to get children to eat healthily is regularly debated. It is a subject that parents, health professionals, schools and even celebrity chefs discuss.

At Foremarke Hall, Repton’s Prep School, there’s a small but very important number of rules followed by the catering team that see both pupils and staff enjoy a varied and healthy diet.

One of the key ways in which Foremarke educates young people about food and diet is through its Food Council which actively involves pupils in the menu choices. Members of the Council consist of a representative from each house, a pupil from each Year group from Year 3 upwards, the school nurse, the Head of Catering and the Bursar.

The Council discusses and decides upon the menus for the forthcoming half-term and the pupil who speaks best during each meeting gets to pick their favourite dish, which is put on the menu the following week.

Great British Life: Paul Woodman with the catering teamPaul Woodman with the catering team (Image: as supplied)

A vegetable of the month is also identified – in March it was parsnip. The vegetable of the month is used in as many ways as possible to demonstrate versatility to the children.

The pupil members of the Foremarke Food Council disseminate healthy eating information to their peer groups. This generates an interest in food and empowers young people to make informed choices about what they eat.

The Council’s decisions mean that there is no menu cycle, choices change every week. What is consistent is that the menu reflects the seasons, produce is sourced locally and 85 per cent of everything served in the dining room is made on site.

‘We plan the menus using seasonal produce, and what is available in the area,’ Paul Woodman, the school’s Head of Catering explains. ‘Our bread is from Luke Evans Bakery in Alfreton, all our meat is locally sourced and supplied by Betty’s Farm in Willington, our milk is from Phil Bramall and Partners in Willington and our berries come from TW Busby and Sons in Swadlincote. Our eggs come from Betty’s Farm, a free-range egg farm two miles down the road. They are delivered to me on a Wednesday. The chickens run around a field; the children can go and see them. That’s what we like.’

Great British Life: School dinnersSchool dinners (Image: foremarke hall school)

Fresh produce is delivered daily by a supplier based in Chesterfield. The company concerned proudly supports local producers but also brings in the finest food ingredients from across the UK and Europe. It sources fruit and vegetables locally as and when the UK growing seasons allow and brings in other more artisan produce daily from a market in Paris.

In the week this article was written, there was plenty of evidence that Paul practices what he preaches. The lunchtime menu featured Minted Shepherd’s Pie – described as ‘fresh Derbyshire-reared lamb cooked with fresh roots in a rich minted gravy, topped with a fresh butter mash’; Italian-style minced beef lasagne, with the main ingredient ‘Derbyshire-reared beef’ and ‘Betty’s home-reared, native breed, pork sausage meat and puff pastry giant Catherine wheels, baked until golden.’

The catering team members are highly skilled and constantly strive to create a ‘wow’ factor. ‘Our team draws inspiration and ideas from different cultures, good restaurants and retailers, monthly food magazines we have delivered to school and, of course, from each other,’ Paul Woodman says. ‘We never compromise on our commitment to produce a nutritionally balanced school lunch using fresh produce. We regularly include Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Italian dishes in our broad menu. Salad and vegetarian options are always available.’

Variety is also achieved in the ways food is presented. A few days of good weather last year saw a teddy bear’s picnic organised. Kitchen and dining room staff all dressed as bears and pupils were encouraged to take their own teddies to eat lunch in the grounds.

Great British Life: Chilled dessertsChilled desserts (Image: foremarke hall school)

It is perhaps no surprise that Foremarke’s catering team was awarded ‘Best Food’ by The Week in its Independent Schools Guide Spring/Summer 2016 or that the Tatler presented Foremarke Hall with a ‘Best School Food’ accolade. In the 2015 edition of the guide, the entry written for Foremarke included high praise for its school meals, saying: ‘Our seasoned tasters were so bowled over they could hardly speak: simple but delicious roast chicken with garlic-and-rosemary potatoes, four choices of luscious green veggies and the best Bakewell tart.’

Learning about healthy eating is not an ‘add-on’ but a valuable and very enjoyable part of everyday life.