What makes Shropshire Council and Milk Link Foodservice a winning team?

30/09/2009 - 00:00
Shropshire Council has enlisted the help of one of its suppliers to inspire school lunch menus with a vast array of dairy products. We take a look at how Milk Link Foodservice is making dairy versatile and keeping within Nutrient Standards.

When it comes to successful school catering, Shropshire Local Authority is one of the country's leading lights. Led by Primary Area Manager Ann Hirst, they were one of the first Authorities to pilot the 'Food for Life' government initiative encouraging the use of local and organic produce, plus adherence to strict nutritional guidelines, and consequently gained the first allocated Silver Medal for their efforts. The accolade was well worth it – since winning the award, uptake on school menus throughout the Authority is up 48% (based on last summer term), and looks set to increase even more. But the hard work doesn't stop there. With responsibility for all food across 142 primary schools, 24 secondary schools and three Public Funded Initiatives within Shropshire, and constant pressure from parents, the government and the media, Ann and her colleagues know they can't afford to rest on their laurels. As a result, they cherish close working relationships with trusted suppliers. "It's vital we work with people that fully understand our vision for school catering, and can help deliver against our needs," she comments. Milk Link Foodservice is one of these. "Since we first met with them, the team at Milk Link Foodservice have worked tirelessly to help develop our food and drink offering. Unlike most suppliers – who just want you to try their products – Milk Link are genuinely approachable, and make our life easier by constantly coming to us with menu ideas," she says. Ann first took on a range of Moo branded Organic Milk drinks, which proved an instant hit with the children, whilst also meeting criteria for the Food for Life programme. "Once we had one product on board things developed quite quickly, as we uncovered everything Milk Link Foodservice could offer. Now we take a huge variety of products – we use cheddar slices and portions from their Bladen catering range in secondary schools, whilst organic milk and Yeo Valley portions sourced from local dairies are on our primary school menus almost every day," Ann says. The products find their way into a vast array of dishes – from home-made pizzas and flans through to sandwiches, pitta wraps, pasta bakes, and are also served on their own as portions, with cheese biscuits. "As an ingredient, cheese is extremely popular in schools, whilst also delivering crucial nutrients for children's development – so it's essential we source a good quality product that delivers a strong flavour and consistently performs well in the kitchen," Ann comments. But their need goes beyond cheese alone. Milk Link Foodservice recently suggested the Authority try using Moo Organic Milk to make savoury and dessert sauces instead of their traditional milk powder – something Ann's currently trialled in a handful of schools. "As a cost sector operation, versatility and value for money is essential for us. So we're experimenting by using milk to make béchamel sauces and home-made custards. It may take a little more time than powdered variants, but it improves the quality of the end dish, will potentially save us money, and enhances our use of organic, local produce." Unsurprisingly this approach has won Ann plenty of fans – not just from government bodies and fellow Authorities, but also from the school children and their parents. "All parents in the region are sent out termly menus for their child's school. If one of our school caterers changes a dish for any reason, word soon gets around, and the parents often phone us up directly to ask why it's changed! It's great that they're so on board with what we're doing – as it inspires us to constantly improve." Visit: www.milklinkfoodservice.com

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