I am writing this blog to celebrate the 10th anniversary of International School Meals Day (ISMD) with you.
The concept of ISMD first emerged when Scotland and the USA started to discuss the opportunities and challenges involved in providing school meals. Through a shared belief that school meals can play a vital role in the overall health and wellbeing of our children and young people the idea of ISMD emerged. Since then engagement with ISMD has grown rapidly with 63 countries across the world taking part in the event last year, sharing their experiences with us.
As Scotland’s National Chef my main objective is to promote Scotland’s world-class produce and the health benefits they bring, and also to promote using locally-sourced, healthy, sustainable and affordable food. Provision of food and drink in schools plays a key part in this as children and young people are given the opportunity to learn about food and health through curriculum for excellence and then see what a balanced and nutritious meal can look like in the school dining hall incorporating many of the best ingredients Scotland has to offer.
It is my mission to promote Scotland’s rich larder of food and drink produce to as wide an audience as possible, including to the food and drink industry and the hotel and catering sectors; to the public sector; and most importantly to the general public, including children and young people.
I have always believed that the school lunch is an integral part of the school day – providing nutritious meals to help children and young people grow and develop healthily and ready to make the most of the learning available to them both in the classroom and the dining hall.
Scotland’s new school food standards were recently strengthened with changes such as an increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables on offer each school day. As school meals are offered to more children through the universal free school meal expansion, it is easier than ever before to access a balanced and nutritious lunch.
Whilst school lunches today may look a little different to when I was at school, the key features remain – to provide children and young people with the food and drink they need for healthy growth and development, to help ensure they are ready to learn without the disruption of a rumbling tummy and of course to set healthy eating habits to carry on into adulthood.
Indeed, I have very fond memories of my own experiences of school meals and it was at school where I first discovered my passion for food. I enjoyed home economics classes so much that it was my teacher who suggested I should become a chef when I left school and I have never looked back since.
I have very fond memories of the school dinner hall, I went to a huge secondary school in Glasgow and it was always chaos, I still do not know how the kitchen team managed to get everyone fed. Thinking back at my favour meals at school I always remember looking for something I had not tried before. Most of my early taste sensations came from that school kitchen. It has gone full circle my kids are now enjoying dinner school most days, I am often asked by my kids why my chicken curry is not as good as school dinners.
My inspiration to become a chef was at school, I was very disengaged in most classes but found that I enjoyed and was good at home economics, this was a revelation for a lad who was probably the worst in every other class. I feel very lucky and privileged that I found my path in life via food and cooking.
I have included an easy-to-prepare recipe for red lentil soup with my blog, you may like to show this recipe to your parents and help them to prepare it.
Red Lentil Soup
175 grams Split red lentils
1 Onion, peeled and chopped
2 Celery sticks, peeled and chopped
1 Carrot, peeled and chopped
1 Garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp Ground cumin
½ tsp Ground coriander
½ tsp Red chilli flakes
1.5 litres Vegetable stock, a good quality stock cube works for this
4 tsp Tomato purée
1 tbsp. Oil
1 Bay leaf
- The first job is to soak the lentils, I always give the lentils a really good was before using.
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Add the chopped onion and cook over a low heat for 5–6 minute, until beginning to soften.
- Stir in the celery and carrot and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chilli flake, cumin and coriander and cook for a further minute.
- Add the washed lentils, stock, tomato purée and bay leaf.
- Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, then cover the pan with a lid and simmer for 20–25 minutes until the lentils and vegetables are very soft.
- Remove the bay leaf from the soup.
- Blend the soup in the pan using a hand-held blender, or tip into a blender or food processor, process until smooth, then return the soup to the pan.
- Check the consistency; it will be fairly thick, so if you prefer it thinner, thin down with a little more stock.
- Season to taste, top with a little oil and shredded spring onions.