I think chairing the School Food Trust (now called the Children's Food Trust) was the most important job I ever did, and when I resigned on my 70th birthday, I left with real regret, but really confident that the corner had been turned and the team would continue with ever-increasing success. My only concern was that the Government might lose its nerve, or a new Government would not see the point. So I made a speech at my leaving party telling the Secretary of State, what kept me awake at night.
I do feel strongly about it. To be pompous about it, what could be more important than changing children’s diet so that they grow up healthy, happy and useful to their families and to society? Obese, unhealthy people have a wretched time of it: they are more likely to fail at school, to be unemployed, to earn less, to be unhappy, to have a shorter life. We need to fix the British diet now.
I applied for the job of Chair of the School Food Trust because the subject of food and cooking is dear to my heart and with my background in food writing, in education, in food businesses and in the media, I thought I could do it. Happily the selection panel thought so too.
The Trust, which was a quango reporting to the Department of Children, Schools and Families, set up after Jamie Oliver woke up the world as to just how dire some school food was.
Today the work still goes on and school mean attendance is steadily climbing and food, generally is getting better. The Trust is now an independent charity, no longer a government quango, and schools still have to meet standards set by government. It is illegal to sell children sweets and chocolates, crisps, fizzy drinks etc in school. The nutritional standards have meant changes in cooking methods, with cooks increasingly preparing fresh food from scratch, and menus and methods becoming modern and healthy. Today you are more likely to see stir frying than deep frying going on, and Spicy Cous Cous than chips.
The trust encourages the take up of the new dinners. They do this by trying to persuade five audiences: they want children to give school meals a go; parents not to undo at home the good work done in school; teachers to regard food teaching as vital; caterers to train their staff to be better cooks and supervisors; and local authorities to pay for modern kitchens and pleasant dining rooms. Henry Dimbleby's report for the Secretary of State for Education was accepted by the Government and re-emphasised most of the themes we had been working on. In addition they recommended more cooking in schools and free school meals for primary school children. Click here to read it www.schoolfoodplan.com
The Trust got £20 million from the lottery to help fund this initiative. It has set up 5,000 cookery clubs in schools all over the country which teach children and their parents, how to cook.