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City school finds recipe for healthy lifestyles

A Birmingham school has found the recipe for success in helping pupils and parents pursue healthier lifestyles thanks to an innovative partnership with a programme promoting good nutrition across the city.

Staff at Shaw Hill Primary in Alum Rock worked with Birmingham Community Healthcare’s FoodNet team for two years to introduce a wide range of initiatives to promote healthy eating and raise awareness of the health benefits of good dietary choices.

Teachers identified opportunities across the curriculum to promote learning about food ingredients and healthy diet, and overhauled school policies to establish routines and best practice standards around all aspects of food consumed in the school.

Shaw Hill Primary School FoodNet

Teacher Sarah Peers,  co-ordinator both for pupils’ social, moral, spiritual and cultural (SMSC) development and their personal, social and physical education (PSHE), says the FoodNet team provided all the ingredients for the school community to work together to deliver lasting health and wellbeing benefits.

“I was one of two members of staff who had the initial FoodNet training and, right from the beginning, there was a strong emphasis on how to incorporate it across the curriculum and the lives of the school community,” explains Sarah.

“The pupils really took to it – one of the great things about using food in education is that it’s very relatable to real life. So we were able to incorporate learning about food and nutrition in a lot of subjects, such as history, geography and design and technology.

“As well as the curriculum enrichment, we’ve made a lot of progress in supporting pupils and their families to really engage with the whole business of learning about food and its impact on health and wellbeing.

“So, we have a featured recipe in our newsletter, there’s recipes and factsheets on the school website and we’ve had workshops for both parents and children to have fun learning about cooking together and for parents or grandparents on their own. It’s been brilliant to see that engagement, awareness-raising and strengthening of relationships across the school community.”

Senior nutritionist Gemma Gill was the school’s FoodNet advisor, visiting around once a term to support and check on progress and becoming a welcome addition to the Shaw Hill team.

“My job was to give the school a framework and then support them in involving everyone in building something that can make a significant lasting difference across the whole school community.

 “The school councillors were given a very important responsibility in the dinner hall of helping to reinforce the messages about healthy options in packed lunches and trying to encourage fellow pupils to use the salad bar and eat fresh vegetables.

“The aim was to work in partnership to embed a whole school approach to food and sustainable change to food culture.”

Shaw Hill Primary FoodNet group
(back, l-r) snr nutritionist Gemma Gill and teacher Sarah Peers with Shaw Hill pupils.

Sarah and Gemma agree that the key to the success of the Food Net philosophy is to harness pupils’ natural hunger – both for food and learning!

Year 5 pupil Hafsa Farooq said: “We’ve learnt so much from Food Net because, in lots of different topics, we’ve introduced something to do with food or cooking where it’s relevant.

“For example, we made ‘Viking’ bread in history, so we were learning about history through food; and food through history.”

Classmate Aadam Zamir added that making a “strawberry and pear crunchie with biscuits and yoghurt”  was his personal highlight. And Aadam explained that they chose the task of making a sandwich for a literacy lesson about making a clear and simple set of instructions.

Year 4 pupil Abdulla Muhammed Mir explained how a life-sized cross-section diagram of a human body was given the title ‘Mr Nobody’ and it was the pupils faceless ‘friend’ who would set them regular challenges such as swapping fizzy drinks for water or choosing fruit instead of sweets as a snack.

Gemma added: “As we’ve seen at Shaw Hill and other schools where they’ve really embraced it, once the Food Net team finish their direct involvement, they leave behind all that good practice embedded in the life of the school.”

FoodNet operated successfully in Birmingham schools from 2000 until 2016.


Get cooking with your kids!

Food health advisor Clair Galligan worked with Shaw Hill to run a series of five-week ‘cooking with your kids’ courses, encouraging parents and children to learn about healthy eating while they cook together, learn new skills and try new foods.

Families who have completed the course said:
“I have learnt lots of new recipes and the importance of food;”
“I’m going to change the excess amount of sugar and oil in my family’s diet and I will add more vegetables and fruit to our diet.” 

Clair Galligan
Clair Galligan