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‘Feed Me Better’ v ‘The School Food Plan’



Whether it’s picturing the face of the notoriously evil dinner lady, recognising the musty smell of cabbage from the school dinner hall or simply remembering being excited when cornflake tart and custard came on the menu, we can all recall something that was great, or not so great, about school dinners.

Despite the school menu evolving in recent years to become much healthier, the negative perception of school meals held by parents appears to have stayed the same. The percentage of children eating within the school canteen has fallen from over 70 per cent in the early 1970s to just 43 per cent today, with some schools “lagging behind, serving food that is much too bland, boring and beige,” according to Dimbleby and Vincent’s School Food Plan.

With good nutrition attributed to better performance in the classroom, it is no surprise that campaigns and initiatives, such as the School Food Plan, have been introduced over recent years. However, up until now, none have been successful – including Jamie Oliver’s 2005 Feed Me Better campaign.

Whilst Oliver’s campaign, backed with heavyweight PR support, led to the formation of the Children’s Food Trust, the introduction of basic nutritional standards to school meals and the widespread ban of junk food within the school environment and the shock tactics he employed as part of his campaign, had adverse effects.

Such was the panicked response of parents to Channel 4’s documentary series Jamie’s School Dinners, which recorded an audience of over five million in February 2005, that the uptake of school meals fell to an all-time low of 37 per cent, much to the dismay of school caterers. 

In contrast, Dimbleby and Vincent have taken a more strategic approach to instrumenting change, as outlined in the rather hefty 149 page document that is the School Food Plan.

With the support of the Secretary of State for Education already secured, Dimbleby and Vincent’s challenge is somewhat easier. The government has already agreed to provide funding for specialist organisations to go into 5,000 schools that are struggling with their lunch service and Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has also agreed to create flagship ‘food boroughs’ in the capital.

In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced yesterday that five to seven year olds in England will receive free school meals from September 2014, a move that has been welcomed by schools and parents alike.

However this doesn’t quite meet Dimbelby and Vincent’s original recommendation, as it will not apply to those pupils aged over seven. Acknowledging this recommendation, Nick Clegg stated:

"My ambition is that every primary school pupil should be able to sit down to a hot, healthy lunch with their classmates every day.

"We will start with infant school pupils because teaching healthy habits young, and boosting attainment early, will bring the biggest benefits.”

In order to avoid us having to address the same problem again in another ten years’ time, Dimbleby and Vincent’s solution is to educate today’s children with the skills they need to feed themselves – and, in time, their own families.

When asked to give his opinion on the School Food Plan, Jamie Oliver too felt that educating children would go a long way to improving school food:

“Getting cooking on the curriculum until the age of 14 and encouraging kids to eat school food are big steps, and we really need to get behind school cooks and head teachers to improve school food. I know how much energy and passion has gone into this plan. Now it has to deliver on its promises and make sure no schools are left behind – and that responsibility sits with this Government.”

 

Whilst Dimbleby and Vincent’s School Food Plan appears to have all the answers, my concern is that they will fail to get the support of parents, which they will come to rely on if the Government fails to meet its promise of providing free school meals.

 

Today, social media is one of the most powerful campaign tools available, and it must be utilised by campaigns such as the School Food Plan. Imagine if Jamie’s School Dinners was broadcast on our televisions today. Hashtags such as #JamiesSchoolDinners would be trending on Twitter, angry parents would be tweeting their child’s school and Facebook would be awash with statuses appalled at the contents of a Turkey Twizzler.

 

In August the School Food Plan had just 1,692 followers on Twitter, demonstrating its inability to really engage with the public. Despite yesterday’s free school meals announcement, the account has gained just 229 followers, which is disappointing considering that Twitter has been awash positive comments about the School Food Plan in the past 24 hours.

 

Whilst it is great to see the industry responding and engaging with the issue on social media, those behind the School Food Plan need to identify this as a creative opportunity to build momentum around the campaign.

Tagged with: , Channel 4, Dimbleby and Vincent, Feed Me Better, Food & Drink, Jamie Oliver, Lifestyle, Manchester, Nick Clegg, PR, PR Agency Manchester, PR Manchester, Public Relations, Public Relations North West, School Caterers, School Dinners, School Food Plan, Twitter