Kath Breckon is a woman on a mission. A chef who trains school kitchen staff across North Yorkshire, she is determined to get more pupils eating a freshly cooked meal each day.
Kath, who once arranged for school children to go out on a Whitby fishing boat so they could get their own catch and then prepare and cook it with the help of a chef from the famed Magpie seafood restaurant, is encouraging families to take up school dinners for their children and wants pupils to try different foods.
She’s a proponent for menus that are healthy, varied and nutritious - and sustainability is at the fore in North Yorkshire too.
So much so, in fact, that North Yorkshire County Council’s school meals service has been recognised in a national award to find the greenest school menus in the UK.
It came second in The Green School Menu League, a competition launches earlier this year by food producer Meatless Farm, headquartered in Leeds, CBBC star and vegan chef Omari McQueen and non-profit organisation ProVeg UK.
North Yorkshire’s school meals development chef, Kath, says: “We have many families who are vegan or vegetarian, but more and more families are starting to eat more plant-based meals. It’s also about being sustainable and supporting local businesses.
“Our vegetables all come from local supplies and even our dry goods come from no further than Wakefield. We use the “farm to fork” approach which means we know exactly where our food has come from.
The council says it offers a meat-free day each week, and a plant-based option three times per week. It is one of four special menus drawn up by the catering service each season, along with gluten-free, egg-free and milk-free menus. Dishes include veggie sausage in a homemade bun with diced potatoes and salad and a cheese, spinach and potato bake.
Kath, who worked as a school cook for nine years, including in Whitby, before taking up her current role, says: “We put a lot of thought into making sure our vegetarian meals are full of colour and variety.
“For our older children in secondary schools, we introduced traditional street and fusion vegetarian foods, such as onion bhaji burgers and other street foods which we make from scratch, to give our plant-based pupils that variety and the chance to follow street food trends.”
The council’s school meals catering service, NYES Catering, serves nearly seven million meals a year to pupils in the county.
It works with ProVeg UK, which supports local authorities and school caterers to shift to healthier and more sustainable menus and provide ideas and tips for making plant-based meals more appealing.
It aims also to influence national food policy as a co-founder of the Plant-based Food Alliance UK, and raise awareness of the importance of plant-based food for people, animals, and the planet through campaign work.
Jimmy Pierson, director of the organisation, says: “We were hugely impressed by North Yorkshire’s commitment to reducing their food emissions by introducing more sustainable plant-based meals, and encouraging their uptake by describing them attractively and strategically placing them on their menu to increase popularity.
“Through its school meals, North Yorkshire is a great example of climate leadership.”
Jimmy adds: “Young people care about climate change and the planet - more than any other generation.”
Kath has previously described how it’s important to “go all out” to make mealtimes enjoyable, adding: “For some of our children it is the only meal they will get.”