The publication of a recent study by The Lancet painted a grim picture for Ireland’s future health. It states that Ireland along with Britain will become one of the most obese countries in Europe by 2025 . Alarmingly, The Irish Times reported that this study predicted that, ‘By 2025, 37 per cent of Irish women will be obese, just behind 38 per cent in the UK, the study forecasts.’
A key scheme put in place to combat this is the DEIS scheme. Set up in 2005, its aim is to provide children from disadvantaged areas with free, healthy food. Our aim was to see if it was fulfilling this ambition. We did this by conducting interviews with members of staff from three participating schools along with getting in touch with Glanmore Foods, the supplier, in order to question them on how they maintain high standards. The Circular also got in touch with the health department to ask them about it and contacted the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute for a neutral, expert viewpoint.
We carried out two interviews in person with staff members from St. Audeons National School and Scoil Treasa Naofa as well as a phone interview with someone from Mary Queen of Ireland National School. Claire Kiernan, secretary at Scoil Treasa Naofa, was particularly enlightening as she showed us the lunches for that day.
She said it was a very good service and emphasized that Glanmore Foods have always been ‘great to deal with.’ When asked whether she deemed it an efficient company to interact with on a daily basis, she had only positive things to say about them. She even pointed to a recent example where there was a mix-up with one child being given the wrong lunch. Within half an hour this was rectified. Most importantly though, she replied ‘yes’ when asked her view on whether the food served was healthy. An additional detail which she pointed out was that Glanmore will not only deliver the food but they will also collect any leftovers and provide them to homeless shelters rather than leaving the school to clean them up. The daily routine works in a smooth manner as each morning Glanmore drops the food off in red baskets as seen in the above photo, long before anyone else arrives. They are able to access the school grounds because they have a key for each DEIS school so they are not waiting around for a member of staff to arrive before being allowed onto the school grounds. After leaving the food just outside the school, the caretaker then moves it inside when he/she arrives. She told me that it is a fantastic arrangement as, ‘you wouldn’t know if the children would have any lunch at all if it was not in place.’ In her view, ‘Children have to come first’.
When The Circular visited St. Audeons and spoke with secretary Mary Keating, she echoed a lot of those sentiments. She said that they have been part of the DEIS scheme since 2007 and so it is now a core part of how the school functions. Again, she also felt the food was very healthy and that, ‘everybody avails of it bar one or two exceptions.’ Encouragingly, it is clear that this is not merely a token exercise as she said the children ‘tend to eat everything.’ She also remarked that Glanmore were ‘very innovative’ with their food. This was something that Claire Kiernan also noted as she had mentioned that they were in the process of updating their menu at the moment. This allays any concerns that they had possibly grown complacent due to the DEIS scheme now having been around for eleven years. It is apparent that they continue to tweak their menu now and again in order to maximise client satisfaction.
Lastly, we also conducted an interview over the phone with Bernie Fitzpatrick, secretary of Mary Queen of Ireland National School. She further echoed the view that Glanmore Foods are ‘constantly updating’ while telling us that they are very satisfied with everything about Glanmore’s food. She said that while the odd child opts out of it, she feels that that is related to them simply preferring the way their mother or father might prepare lunch for them.
Prior to seeking these opinions, we had been quite satisfied by Glanmore’s response to our email which explained that we were seeking to verify that their food is healthy. Business Development Manager Vivion Powney responded, assuring us that, ‘We have a commitment to provide healthy school lunches and we fulfil this in many ways, this is just a sample: Our Quality Manager is our nutritional advisor having a background in science and nutrition (Science degree Trinity College) and Masters in Food Science (UCD). Our menus are formulated in conjunction with our schools and the Senior Community Dietician for children in Dublin from the HSE. We have our own onsite bakery where we use clean label ingredients to produce our bakery products ensuring no unnecessary additives or preservatives are used. Our white bread contains 3.4% fibre, normal white bread contains only 1.8% fibre. We produce a soft white hi-fibre roll with a fibre content of 7% (equivalent to 100% wholemeal bread which children will not choose). We have more fruit and vegetable options on our menu than any other school lunch provider. The only drinks on our menu are water and milk. We have the Highest Standard for Hygiene & Food Safety for a food producer in Ireland as certified by Excellence Ireland Quality Association. Q-Mark.’ This is a very comprehensive account of the measures that they utilise in order to guarantee that their food is beneficial to children’s health.
In terms of wider organisations which could give a more general insight into healthy eating for children, both the Department of Health and The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute were contacted. Our query there was that on Glanmore’s website they say that, ‘Glanmore Foods use the Food Pyramid to ensure that our lunches and morning snacks provide a healthy balance for your kids.’ We wondered whether the Food Pyramid was a bit outdated at this point. The Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute were the first to reply, pointing out that, ‘With regard to the food pyramid it might be better if you contacted the Dept of Health as it is DOH that produced it and as far as we are aware it is being updated but not available as yet.’ This proved true as a few days later the Department of Health emailed back. Their response was that, ‘we are currently working on a revised Food Pyramid which will be available in a couple of months. This FP is for children aged 5 years and upwards-with mentions re smaller portions for smaller children.’ This demonstrates that while obesity is a growing problem in this country, we are at least as a country taking steps to protect our most susceptible citizens, our children.