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We know what we like! Healthy food passes test; Panel of pupils advises caterers.

Byline: Rhodri Clark

HEALTHY eating is on the up at a school in a former mining community, after some of the pupils were enlisted to choose new foods for the canteen.

Around Britain, take-up of school dinners plummeted after criticism by television chef Jamie Oliver prompted officials to put healthier foods on canteen menus.

Parents even passed chips through the fence at one school in England where pupils were banned from leaving the premises at lunchtime.

But the pilot scheme at Ysgol y Grango, in Rhos, Wrexham, aimed to keep the children on side by gradually reducing fat and sugar content through new foods which appealed to the pupils.

Sales of chips plummeted - while pasta and fresh fruit juice proved a hit.

Over the academic year a panel of 10 pupils, representing all age groups at the secondary school, sampled new foods to tell catering managers which ones would go down a treat.

The panel also devised a way to encourage children to buy new foods at lunchtime - giving them free samples at morning break.

During the year Amy Roche, a dietitian from Wrexham Maelor Hospital, trained eight pupils in Year 9 in nutrition. They became food ambassadors, teaching their peers and younger children about healthy eating.

Taking stock at the end of the school year, Ms Roche said the Food Matters initiative at Ysgol y Grango had worked well.

"It has been a learning process for us all. Everyone benefited from this project.

"It is hoped that in the future, more secondary school pupils could benefit from this programme."

She said the peer education programme was particularly successful, as it used selected pupils "to cascade food and nutrition messages to their own peers".

Grace Thorne, 14, was one of the food ambassadors and a member of the School Nutrition Action Group (Snag), which tested potential new foods for the canteen.

"One of the things we recommended was a cookie with raisins and nuts in it," she said.

"We didn't recommend a vegetable stew because we didn't think the children would buy it."

The group gave the thumbs-up to Pasta King, pasta portions with sauce containing hidden vegetables and designed to meet UK nutritional guidelines.

"A lot of kids liked that," said Grace, who has just finished Year 9.

Ysgol y Grango has only 355 pupils but 75 portions of Pasta King were sold each school day, on average, during February.

Lynda Wright, catering manager for Wrexham council, said it was vital to introduce healthy eating in a way the pupils would accept.

"We had to go slowly with it.

England are having a problem because they're having things imposed on them, and the children are voting with their feet and walking out of the canteen."

One priority was to instil the concept of a meal, to replace snacking.

"The children are from a lower-income background. They're not used to sitting down and eating a proper meal with the family. There may be a lot of snacking in front of the TV, or looking after themselves," said Mrs Wright.

Small bags of fruit had proved popular.

"Because children are notoriously bad with peeling an orange or eating an apple, we put chunks of pineapple, watermelon and grapes in a bag and sealed it up.

"We tried a healthy lemon and poppy-seed muffin, with slightly reduced fat and no icing or decorations.

"We're trying to change their palate, to appreciate other flavours.

It's such hard work - they think we're poisoning them. They say, 'I'm not eating that. What is it?'"

Snag came up with the idea of giving pupils a free taste of each new food.

"There are posters around the school advertising that there will be a free product available," she said.

"The children come into the dining room at morning break to try a sample of what's going on the lunchtime menu."

Teacher Chris Corbally, who chaired the Snag, said attitudes were starting to change.

"The main difference has been a reduction in sweets, cakes and desserts."

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GOING DOWN A TREAT: The Ysgol y Grango canteen where healthy eating is catching on Picture: Andrew Price
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 24, 2008
Words:688
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