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How can we make school dinners popular again? High school shares its top tips

PUBLISHED: 08:34 05 November 2019 | UPDATED: 15:21 05 November 2019

Dereham Neatherd High School The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Rhys, Matt, Stuart, Julia, Roxanne, Thomas, Jamie, Kaden , Josh, Bradley and Jamie Photo: Archant

Dereham Neatherd High School The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Rhys, Matt, Stuart, Julia, Roxanne, Thomas, Jamie, Kaden , Josh, Bradley and Jamie Photo: Archant

Archant

Schools have to keep up with changes in food and diet trends to bring more students into their canteens, according to a Norfolk school dinners specialist.

Dereham Neatherd High School. The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. School dinner hall Photo: ArchantDereham Neatherd High School. The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. School dinner hall Photo: Archant

A recent survey revealed a steep decline in take-up of school dinners across England despite efforts to encourage children back to the canteen hatches.

The Back In My Day survey by teachingabroaddirect.co.uk, asking people of all ages about their school days, revealed school dinners have become less popular in successive generations with take-up falling by around 12pc a decade.

In light of its findings Stewart Anderson, sustainability and environmental coordinator at Dereham Neatherd High School, has offered his nuggets of advice to schools to make their dinners more popular.

Mr Anderson was hired by the school in 2016 and charged with making school dinners the norm for pupils.

Dereham Neatherd High School. The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Gardening club Photo: ArchantDereham Neatherd High School. The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Gardening club Photo: Archant

His position and its scope are understood to be relatively rare in the county.

He started a gardening club and a school nutrition action club to get students more involved with food and analyses school dinner sales to find ways to increase take-up.

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His input is bearing fruit, with canteen sales now rising year-on-year.

Dereham Neatherd High School The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Gardeneing club Photo: ArchantDereham Neatherd High School The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Gardeneing club Photo: Archant

As well as keeping prices affordable for pupils, Mr Anderson said following modern dietary trends was key to the school dinner revival.

"It has taken time for school catering providers to be able to catch up to modern eating trends such as vegetarianism and veganism and provide affordable, healthy grab-and-go options," he said.

"Our school has changed our menu significantly over the last few years to meet up with these demands."

Mr Anderson has also worked with students from disadvantaged backgrounds to ensure they are making the most of their free school meal allowance.

Dereham Neatherd High School The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Photo: ArchantDereham Neatherd High School The school is working to encourage more pupils to have school dinners amid a national decline by getting them involved in growing and cooking food. Photo: Archant

He said: "I run a monthly report to identify those who are not and meet with them to discuss why. Sometimes they are unaware of their entitlement; others don't like the food.

"I work with them to discuss the range of options that they could choose from to encourage them to get a regular meal."

Next for Mr Anderson is joining an allotment network with other schools to share best practice and resources.

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