Lining up outside the dining hall, you furiously wipe your hands on your sleeves to make it look as though you’ve washed them, desperately craning your neck to see what’s on offer. A faintly sweet, slightly burnt smell wafts out through the open door and hits you in the face, a spectral precursor to Monday’s school lunch.
School lunches of the past do not tend to conjure up joyous memories nor did they embrace the balanced diet so heralded by doctors, parents and dieticians alike. Memories of the thick wedges masquerading as meat, tiny squares of cucumber acting as solitary vegetable and the mound of spaghetti hoops that swam dangerously near to the edge of a precariously balanced plate.
Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of Leon wants to change this by founding a new charity, Chefs in Schools alongside Nicole Pisani and Louise Nichols, head chef and headteacher respectively of Gayhurst Community School in London Fields.
The charity’s goal is to place 100 restaurant chefs in 100 schools by 2023 while aiming to address the shocking statistics around children’s health. The reality is that 1 in 10 children starting primary school are overweight while one in five leaving are obese. These statistics are noticeably more shocking in the more impoverished neighbourhoods across the country.
The charity focuses on the importance of food and especially of a good lunch. This may be the only hot meal that many children, most noticeably those eligible for free school meals, eat for the entire day.
Cooking in schools presents a challenge to professional chefs, many of whom are used to working with top quality ingredients in state of the art kitchens, as they have to work on budgets of around 70p per child per meal. It’s a challenge that several chefs have opted for since the charity’s launch, embedding themselves with school kitchens and helping to train the original kitchen staff.
While social media may be littered with bird’s eye photos of technicolour food, smoothie recipes and impossible-to-recreate-at-home dishes, Chefs in Schools has a more humble but far more important goal at its heart: to educate, feed and help children to perform at their full potential.
Visit Chefs in Schools website to find out more.