Jamie's School Dinners

Jamie's School Dinners

"Jamie's School Dinners" was a landmark four-episode documentary series broadcast on Channel 4 in the UK from 23 February to 16 March 2005. The series was recorded between spring to winter 2004, in which it featured TV chef Jamie Oliver attempting to improve the quality and nutritional value of school dinners at a typical British school, Kidbrooke School in the London Borough of Greenwich — a goal which ultimately lead to a broader campaign (called "Feed Me Better") to improve school dinners throughout Britain.

Kidbrooke School

At Kidbrooke, Oliver first encountered the school's seemingly fearsome head dinner lady, Nora Sands. Although the two clashed frequently over matters from kitchen technique to workload, Nora eventually became Jamie's most ardent supporter throughout the series and the campaign.Oliver had his work cut out for him: firstly, the daily budget for school dinners was a mere 37 pence per child. Secondly, the students at the school were so used to eating processed junk food (such as deep fried meat products and chips) that Oliver faced a student revolution when he banned junk food from the school. Thirdly, Oliver's unconventional ingredients and meal ideas startled the dinner ladies, increased their workload dramatically, and exceeded the allocated budget.

Boot camp

After a disastrous start at Kidbrooke, with students refusing to eat and dinner ladies threatening to resign due to overwork, Oliver organised a "boot camp" for dinner ladies in the borough, roping in the catering division of the British Army to demonstrate how to cook large amounts of food quickly and efficiently.


Statistically, the English county of Durham had the highest rate of health problems among school children in the country. Oliver visited a primary school in Peterlee, and realised that part of the problem with getting kids to eat healthier food was the food they were eating at home. He visited a young boy's family and convinced them to try a healthier home-cooked menu for a week.

Return to London

Returning to Greenwich, Oliver faced a student boycott of his new menu. He produced an education kit, and recruited children to work in the kitchen, demonstrating to them exactly what went into chicken nuggets, and teaching them to identify vegetables.

As the campaign gathered momentum, gaining increasing public support, Oliver approached members of the government, to campaign for increased funding for ingredients and staff wages in school canteens.

Results of the show and campaign

The British Government, and Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to take steps to improve school dinners shortly after the program aired. 271,677 people signed an online petition on the Feed Me Better website, which was delivered to 10 Downing Street on 30 March 2005. Certain junk foods (such as the notorious Bernard Matthews "Turkey Twizzlers" much derided on the show) were banned from schools by their local borough or county council. The Department for Education and Skills created the School Food Trust to provide support and advice to improve the standard of school meals.

Jamie's Return to School Dinners

Starting in February 2006, Oliver returned to his crusade to see how his flagship Greenwich school, Kidbrooke, was progressing. Overworked and under pressure, Nora reveals that she is losing money due to the decision to close the school tuck shop (which sold junk food and snacks), that she wasn't being paid for the extra hours, and that she hadn't seen any of the promised money. The end-of-year deficit is between £12000 and £15000 (the school management declined to be precise, on the advice of the local council), the children are slipping back into their old habits, and Jamie's new menu is losing popularity.

In response, Jamie organises a 'Junk Amnesty' wherein the children exchange their snacks and unhealthy food for tokens which can then be redeemed for healthier meals at a kiosk Jamie sets up in their playground.

Jamie then travels to Lincolnshire, where most of the schools have decomissioned their kitchens to save money. He pioneers a project that connects the schools to local pubs, restaurants, and hotels, and to local farmers. Produce would be sourced locally, cooked, and then taken to nearby schools by taxi or volunteer drivers. In order to make the project viable, he has to convince 90% of the local parents to participate.

A pilot scheme is started to provide Theddlethorpe and Saltfleetby primary schools in Lincolnshire with hot meals, with the help of a local pub. However, there are problems. Nora has hygiene concerns regarding the pub kitchen, and the pub cook has been altering the recipes in an attempt to save money, which Jamie remedies by introducing him to a local supplier.

Initial take-up is good, following a demonstration to parents of a terms'-worth of junk food that their children eat (a plastic mat with a pile of chips (2 binfuls), saturated fat, Coke, burgers, with a garnish of crisps and sweets), and a brief speech at the school's easter service.

To spread the word, Jamie organises a fête for local schools, suppliers and caterers in Lincoln Castle. There he encourages connections between parents, schools, and food industry representatives. The event ('Hot Dinners For Imps') is a resounding and overwhelming success, and garners support from the local council.


In London, meeting first with Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and Prime Minister Tony Blair, Jamie secures promises of an additional £240M for 3 years, a trust to allow schools without kitchens to build, a pledge to consider a series of training kitchens across the country, and creation of a voluntary code of conduct concerning advertising of junk food to children.

External links and references

* [http://www.channel4.com/life/microsites/J/jamies_school_dinners/index.html "Jamie's School Dinners"] at Channel4.com
* [http://www.feedmebetter.com/ Feed Me Better campaign]
* [http://www.noraskitchen.com/ Nora Sand's website]

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