Young people are having their say on the food on their plates by helping develop healthier high school menus.
The health peer education project Hearty Lives is being delivered across all 11 Renfrewshire secondary schools by Paisley-based charity Active Communities.
Each school has appointed a teacher as a coordinator who works with a group of senior pupils to promote healthy eating and to make improvements for their fellow students.
The project is funded by Renfrewshire Council’s Tackling Poverty Fund and school catering staff have met regularly with the groups to develop high school menus.
A healthier breakfast service has been introduced to phase out traditional filled rolls in favour of choices such as toast, poached eggs and fruit, as well as reducing the size and availability of home baking options.
Healthy food choices are now more prominently displayed at serving areas with catering staff encouraged to ‘nudge’ pupils to make healthier choices.
At Johnstone High School, catering staff have also being working with the School Nutrition Action Group to offer taster sessions to pupils and parents, as well as reviewing the food choices on offer at break times. Catering Manager Kerry O’Donnell said: “We had excellent feedback on the quality of food served in the canteen from the parents who attended the food taster session and we’re regularly reviewing the food choices on offer to help pupils to make healthier choices.”
Plans are also underway for outdoor seating in the school’s quadrangle area to encourage pupils to buy a healthy meal and stay on site.
First year pupil Alexs Malone, 12, said: “I came to the taster session with my family and we had the opportunity to taste different healthy foods which are now available from the canteen. Tasting the different foods has encouraged me to eat healthier foods at break and at lunchtime.”
The school’s Hearty Lives coordinator Ainsley Brown said: “The healthier school meals initiative is one of the main projects that our Young Health Ambassadors have been involved in and it has been very successful in encouraging all of our students to make healthier food choices.”
Student Rachel McGhee said: “Young Health Ambassadors were responsible for finding out the nutritional facts of different foods and then for creating nutritional themed displays within the canteen which make our fellow pupils aware of the health benefits of certain foods.”
Similar work is being carried out in all high schools with work experience also being offered in some school kitchens.
Renfrewshire Council is also working in partnership with West College Scotland to deliver a bespoke Cooking Skills training course open to all catering staff and designed around the school menu.
Renfrewshire Council’s Convener of Education and Young People, Councillor Jim Paterson, said: “It’s great to see how young people in our secondary schools have shown their commitment to healthy eating.
“They are well informed about the positive effects it can have for mental health and wellbeing and also for their self esteem and the feedback from the pupils involved in the project is that they want more healthy food options available.
“We are committed to making healthy eating a priority for all children and young people and will continue to develop school menus by working in partnership with them and also with organisations like Active Communities.”