Where they do sing for their supper

9th May 2008 at 01:00
That x Factor's got a lot to answer for
That x Factor's got a lot to answer for. If you had asked an Aberdeenshire 11-year-old to give you a song a few years ago, you'd probably have got the lowered eyes and the wobbly lip.

Not any more. At Monquhitter Primary in Cuminestown, near Turiff, they are positively belting it out, after just the right amount of hesitation for girlish modesty.

This trio made their debut live on Peterhead-based Waves Radio, after a competition to find the top radio jingles, slogans and dramas to publicise Aberdeenshire school menus on air. The girls set their own lyrics to the recent Mika hit "Lollipop" and the result put them among the four winning primaries who will take turns broadcasting the region's daily school menus on air. The other winners came from Boddam, Fetter-angus and Skene primary schools.

"Rushing out the door on a Monday morning forgot to look at the menu. My Mama told me to buy me a ticket before the lunch bells ring. Yu-um, can't wait, my belly's starting to rumble," sing Caitlin Anderson, Sarah Henderson and Eilidh Campbell.

Music indeed to the ears of Aberdeenshire's catering officer Michael Patilla-Lamb, who is responsible for promoting healthy eating in canteens across the region, serving around 14,000 meals a day. He is a former chef who has worked in some of Scotland's popular restaurants, including the Pierre Victoire chain. So he's well equipped to banish what he describes as old-fashioned stereotypes, such as lumpy custard and cabbage.

"The whole new approach, based on the initiative Hungry for Success, has meant there's a special emphasis on real hand-made foods and foods of a very high standard and good quality. It's also helpful to overturn old stereotypes about school dinners. The main one for us is the 'lumpy custard' approach - custard is not lumpy in Aberdeenshire school dinners, " Mr Patilla-Lamb insists.

"Lumpy custard represents the whole unsavoury, stodgy approach to food provision, whereas in Aberdeenshire it's much more creative and hand-made. We think we can win hearts and minds with it."

And he says items such as hot dogs or chicken burgers will only appear once within the month: "We have eradicated many of what are considered to be convenience-style foods. We have focused on wholesome foods with lots of fresh ingredients, handmade on the day."

As part of the communications strategy, menus are sent home with children, and details about what's on offer are given on the local authority website. The lunchtime queues have been growing during the last three years of Hungry for Success in Aberdeenshire.

Singer Eilidh, 10, pronounces her favourite meal is macaroni cheese, Sarah, 11, picks healthy salads and Caitlin, 12, likes sausage rolls.

And whatever the canteen staff have been doing at Monquhitter Primary, they have also been hitting the right note. Head Peter Wood says attendance at school lunch has rocketed. "We have found that using competitions like this and other health initiatives, our uptake of canteen meals has risen from 28 to around 70 in the last two years."

In a school with 100 pupils, that's an impressive increase and, according to Mr Wood, it's been achieved through a curriculum designed to support a healthy lifestyle. "Just encouraging healthy eating through newsletters, communication, embedding it in the curriculum. Not just along the lines of fruit and vegetables and healthy diets, but also with drinking water and the allocation of two to two-and-a-half hours PE each week," Mr Wood explains.

Fortunately, for the girls, though, there is still room for a little indulgence in Aberdeenshire, and on the way home from the radio recording they were treated to a local favourite - sticky toffee pudding. Yum.

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