Cost of fish hits school dinners
It has long been one of the most commonly picked canteen choices for school pupils across the isles – but the humble fish and chips is now forcibly on the decline.
Schools are being asked to offer the ever-popular dish on a fortnightly – instead of weekly – basis from the end of this month, despite school pupils widely opting for the treasured favourite.
The change reflects a hike in costs, as well as a desire to see more “oily” fish rich in healthy Omega-3 nutrients on school menus.
That means meals such as mackerel goujons are taking over where the fish supper once ruled supreme. The likes of fish pies or fish cakes will still be available week by week, but the long-term favourite is now being forced to wait its turn.
It comes in the same month figures were released showing Shetland boats increased their turnover by more than 40 per cent last year, landing 134,000 tonnes of fish worth £112 million.
Executive manager for schools, Shona Thomson, said the decision came down to a mix of price and a desire for more healthy food. It also reflected the situation nowadays where haddock is more costly than salmon.
“There are all manner of other fish dishes. Fried fish and chips is not the most healthy of options,” she said.
“We’ve recently tendered our contract and the price [for haddock] has gone up by about 60 pence a kilo, so to put it on every week is really costing us quite a lot of money.
“We’re also obliged to have more of the Omega 3 dishes on the menu – and that’s the oily fish, such as salmon.”
She said school menus had to be shown to Education Scotland as part of the school inspections. A recent visit, she said, had highlighted the need for oily fish options.
“We’ve recently had a nutritionist come up here as part of the inspection team, and that advice is very clear. That [oily fish] should be on the menu at least once every three weeks.
“So we’re trying to think of different ways we can introduce that. We have some things like mackerel goujons, but for some bairns it’s not the most popular of dishes.
“We are trying to introduce different kinds of fish, so it’s not just about the price of the fish. It’s just not the healthiest option either.”
She said buying in bulk would potentially offer a more cost-effective solution. But the schools service buys fresh, which rules out bulk buying.
“It has been suggested to us that we could ship it in frozen, and it would be cheaper – yes, it would be. But we’re not wanting to compromise on the quality of the produce we’re using. All our dinners are cooked fresh, we don’t use anything frozen, which is unusual. When you go south it’s all chilled.
“The salmon is cheaper than the haddock now.”
Chairwoman of education and families, Vaila Wishart, said fish had become “hugely expensive”. The saving, she said, was one of the economies having to be made.