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School cook

They are at the sharp end of the battle to banish turkey twizzlers and get school children to eat healthily.

But now it seems dinner ladies themselves are asking for an upgrade.

Those with catering qualifications prefer to be called "school cooks" or "school chefs" while servers want to be known as "lunchtime supervisors" or even "food advisers" following Jamie Oliver's healthy meals revolution

One of the TV chef's recommendations was a network of training schools for dinner ladies to improve their knowledge of nutrition as well as their skills in cooking with fresh ingredients.

Geraldine Brooks, 48, is studying for an NVQ qualification in professional cookery through Thames Valley University.

She has recently been made school cook at St Raphael's Roman Catholic Primary in Northolt, West London.

"Dinner lady tends to be used across the board for anyone working within a school meals environment," she said.

"But the cooks are different from the servers and some cooks are now upping the ante and are going to university. They have realised their jobs are skillful jobs.

"You are responsible for hygiene, for ordering, for stock-taking, for time sheets, for arranging cover when staff are off sick and that's why I think the title dinner lady is not really happening.

"There's so much involved in running a 'unit' as kitchens are now called.

"The more experienced call themselves chefs. The girls out front are so much more than dinner ladies food technical advisers or something along those lines would be better!"

They now have a role in encouraging children to choose healthy foods at lunchtime � and preventing more pupils from joining the 400,000 who have already deserted school dinners since healthy menus were introduced.

Miss Brooks added: "What a lot of parents don't realise is these girls have basic food hygiene and safety certificates.

"There's a lot more to it than slapping a bit of mash on a plate. Of course, we don't do that in our school, we strategically place it!"

The rebranding of dinner ladies emerged as the School Food Trust, set up by ministers to co-ordinate the healthy meals drive, formally launched a network of 16 training centres around the country.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls is expected to announce further money to extend the network at a ceremony today.

The first 16 centres, known as the FEAST network (Food Excellence and Skills Training), are expected to train 30,000 school staff in catering and nutrition over the next three years.

Jenny Wright, director of delivery for the trust, said it backed attempts by dinner ladies to increase their professionalism and welcomed any change in their titles.

She said: "Dinner lady has been the term that has been commonly used for some time but what's happening now is that there's much more use of the term 'school cook' or 'head cook'."

She said the role of cook had become more skillful since there was now more emphasis on cooking food from scratch on the premises instead of reheating frozen meals.

Staff also had to present the food attractively and market it to children.

"Children also have lunchtime supervisors supervising them," she added.

"They also have a role in encouraging children to eat the food


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