“Meeting revolutionaries” wasn’t in the job ad when I applied to work at Food for Life. However, meeting teachers, cooks, caterers, nursery staff and children was.
Funnily enough, it turns out they can be one and the same thing. Day-to-day revolutionaries, found in Food for Life schools and nurseries, who are making lasting change from the ground up.
This inspiring bunch is out there making a real, positive, essential difference to the health and wellbeing of children – both right now and for their futures. Every day.
They do it in ways that work best for them, drawing on the Food for Life award framework, guidance and resources to support along the way.
Unsurprisingly, it started with the vision of another on the ground revolutionary, school cook Jeanette Orrey. Having led huge changes in her own school, she wanted the benefits she had seen to be available to every child.
She joined forces with national charity the Soil Association and the campaign to feed school children better began. With support of the Big Lottery Fund and expert partners, Food for Life has developed into a programme that works with thousands of schools and increasing numbers of nurseries, hospitals and care homes, helping them all to make good food the easy choice for everyone.
They do that by providing great food and the right kind of environment to enjoy it in. In schools and nurseries, they also teach children and their parents to cook, grow and learn where their food comes from.
It’s a combination that gets results.
Independent evaluation of the programme shows that pupils in Food for Life schools are twice as likely to eat five a day and a third less likely to eat no fruit or vegetables than pupils in comparison schools.
It also demonstrates that positive change reaches beyond the school gate, with 45% of parents reporting eating more vegetables as a result of Food for Life activities in their child’s school.
It’s always great to be able to quote the evidence.
But what really inspires us is hearing about the amazing, innovative activities and actions that contribute to these results:
“Each year group looks after their own vegetable bed and the children are often picking and eating as they garden.”
“The children asked if they could have a tasting table to try out new healthy foods. The children record whether they liked the taste or not and the foods are introduced into the menus if sufficient children liked them.”
“One of the parents of a child in garden club asked if she could take some of the spinach we had grown in the school garden home so that she could make us a curry. The next day she brought some homemade curry for us to share.”
“We have a weekly cookery session which includes two children from each year group. The older children help the younger pupils. They are super role models! We have made Spanish ratatouille – using school grown courgettes and onions…”
So you can imagine one of the hands down highlights of my job is getting out there and seeing this in action. Talking to a group of nine and ten year olds who tell you about how they eat and enjoy the sort of food that will keep them healthy is pretty heartening. They can also tell you how they made that food, that they grew some of the ingredients and that they understand how it contributes to a balanced diet.
I come away from those conversations feeling that their knowledge of how to look after themselves and enjoyment of healthy food is with them for life. Without fail, it gives me hope that there’s a chance for positive, long term change.
But the job is far from done.
We have over 1,000 schools actively engaged in the Food for Life awards programme as well as an increasing number of nurseries and children’s centres.
We can’t stop here.
If you do some sums based on the programme’s evaluation results, if ALL primary schools in England were Food for Life schools, ONE MILLION more children would eat five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day (you can see our workings here).
One million more children eating five a day. Now THAT would be an amazing contribution to a food revolution.
We can’t do this alone. We need more teachers, nursery staff, cooks, parents and children to join us and make this happen. In turn, we promise to give you the support and guidance you need to help you along the way. Not to mention heaps of inspiration from the food revolutionaries who are already working with us.