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Blog – Making School Food Initiatives Work: HFfA Workshop in Donegal on Good Practice

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Working with schools we’re always blown away by the fantastic work staff, parents and volunteers do every day to support children eat well.  We, in Healthy Food for All, believe that this work needs to be supported. In January we partnered with HSE Health Promoting Schools and the Children and Young People’s Committee in Letterkenny to run a workshop to support schools provide quality, nutritious food.   Representatives from schools with an interest in setting up a food initiative came along as well as representatives from community and voluntary organisations.  We were delighted to have so many people turn up, especially since it had started to snow night the night before!  It really showed us how committed people working in schools are to ensuring the best outcomes for children.

Working to overcome the barriers to healthy food in schools

There was a lively discussion about current needs in the county, with people identifying some barriers that schools face in trying to set up a School Food Initiative.  The main challenges highlighted were the lack of financial resources and the lack of time or capacity of school staff to run a food initiative.  Not having a space to provide food in an appropriate space also acted as a barrier.

Participants shared their experiences of what worked well and what didn’t.  The support of school Boards of Managements were highlighted as critical to the success of a School Food Initiative as they often helped by either allocating funding from the school budget or through additional fundraising.  With regard to providing the healthier options, staff in one school cut up fruit and vegetables into bite-sized pieces and found that children were trying all types of food including turnips and peppers.

Lessons learned

The workshop was a great opportunity to identify resources across Co. Donegal.  A representative from the Donegal Volunteer Centre highlighted how they have 2,500 people looking to volunteer across County Donegal.  Volunteers can support breakfast clubs, after school clubs but can also provide administrative support if required.  The Volunteer Centre also provides free training and can source volunteers with specific skillsets as needed by the initiative.  There was a great energy in the room and everyone wrote out a commitment on what they will do to support school food provision locally.  Here are some of the actions participants committed to achieving:

  • Establish a forum to look at and improve school food provision at a county level
  • Provide a forum for networking among local partners with a sole to play in the provision of food in schools
  • Approach suppliers as a collective to improve their standards
  • Develop a strategy to support parental participation
  • Act as a local lobby group to change local policies

A key learning point was the strength of people power and how, by working together on an issue, much can be achieved. However, there is a lack of clarity about what resources are available to schools.   This group is now supported by the HSE Health Promoting Schools Co-ordinator in Donegal and we hope that they can continue to work together to improve school food provision at a county level.If you’re interested in hearing more about the issues that were discussed on the day have a look at the report from the workshop.