DO you remember being served mashed potato with an ice cream scoop?

How about eating a bowl of sponge cake with bright green custard?

Do you have fond memories of the dinner ladies who would serve you every day in the school canteen?

It's national school meals week – a whole week dedicated to the canteen food that keeps children well fed at lunchtime while they’re school.

Gone are the days of turkey twizzlers and chips every day followed by sponge pudding and custard.

They’re now tasty, nutritious and carefully planned each day by hardworking kitchen staff to appeal to young appetites and hungry tummies.

Youngsters can now enjoy tasty and nutritious meals that are prepared fresh each day with mouth-watering options like chicken korma with naan bread, spaghetti bolognaise with garlic bread and roast dinner with all the trimmings on the menu.

They’re prepared by dedicated kitchen and canteen staff across Northwich, Winsford and Middlewich courtesy of catering company Edsential, which provides thousands of meals a day and millions of meals every year in more than 100 schools across Cheshire West and Wirral.

The menus run on a three-week cycle and support sugar swap and juice free days as well as meat free Fridays and there is always freshly baked bread, seasonal vegetables and salad followed by fresh fruit and organic yogurt available.

They’re a real hit with hungry children taking a break from the classroom with youngsters in Early Years and Key Stage One entitled to free school meals every day.

They even have themed days throughout the year to enable children to try cuisines from around the world or celebrate special events like World Book Day.

Northwich Guardian: A sample week's menu served at St Bede's Catholic Primary School in WeaverhamA sample week's menu served at St Bede's Catholic Primary School in Weaverham (Image: Edsential)

National school meals week, which runs between November 6 and November 12, is an opportunity for school caterers to shout about the fantastic work they do every day of the school year.

It celebrates the tireless efforts of school kitchen and canteen staff who continue to serve up great tasting, nutritious food to school children despite increasing pressures amid the cost-of-living crisis.

To celebrate national school meals week, we spoke to catering supervisor Hayley de Gaunza who works at St Bede’s Catholic Primary School in Weaverham.

Hayley started her school catering career as a kitchen assistant 17 years ago and she’s never looked back.

In 2021, she progressed to catering supervisor and now manages her own kitchen.

Hayley said: “School catering is very different to how many of us remember.

“My memories of school dinners as a child are semolina pudding, bland stews and being forced to eat liver – even as a vegetarian!

“But with Edsential this is so far removed from today’s reality.

“We ensure all children are catered for, whatever their dietary needs, and make adjustments to our menus to ensure they’re inclusive.

"Whether a child has an allergen, intolerance or cultural diet, it’s important to us that they never have to miss out on their favourite dish.”

Edsential menus differ between schools as they allow children to vote for their favourite meals ensuring that the balanced dishes on offer are ones the youngsters are going to enjoy.

Northwich Guardian: Roast dinner is a popular dish on the school dinners menuRoast dinner is a popular dish on the school dinners menu (Image: Edsential)

Hayley said: “Our menus rotate every three weeks to ensure there’s variation for the children, but spaghetti bolognese is definitely a longstanding favourite at St Bede’s.

“The children love the new breaded star fish on a Friday too.

 “For me, my favourite thing to cook for the children is a roast dinner.

“There are so many different elements - lots of vegetables - and you just know the children are getting a really decent plate of food.

“It’s so important, as for lots of children their school meal can be the most substantial meal they eat each day.

“Everything we serve is homemade and nutritious, using only the finest ingredients.

“We use beautifully cut joints of meat from the local butcher, sustainably sourced fish, and bake all of our cakes and biscuits fresh every morning.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, as we know exactly what’s going into the meals that we create.

“Fresh fruit, salad and yogurt is available daily and it’s great to see children making healthier choices and trying new things – for lots of children their first experience of things like watermelon has been at school.”

She added: “People ask what’s the best part about being an Edsential school catering supervisor and for me, there is no greater satisfaction than taking a moment to look at the servery just before the children arrive and reflecting on what you have achieved for them that day.

“It’s great to see healthy, nutritious meals that you know they are going to love.

“It all becomes worth it when they arrive at lunch time with wide eyes, looking at what’s on offer.”

Hayley and the hard-working team at St Bede’s get great feedback from parents with one pupil devouring the chicken pie and telling his dad that she had a new challenge to create something just as tasty at home.

Edsential is always looking to add to their catering teams at Mid Cheshire schools, with school-hours contracts suitable for parents whose little ones have just started school.