The Health Commission, set up by The Times to consider the future of health and social care in England, has cited Chefs in Schools as offering a fresh new approach to transforming school food. Here’s what they had to say about our work:

There are no pizzas or turkey twizzlers on the menu for lunch at Gayhurst School, a state primary in Hackney, east London. Instead, children eat Persian beef biryani, carrot and coriander fritters or black beans with brown rice. Pudding is lime cheesecake and amaretti crumble.

It is a regular Thursday but pupils sit down to a feast. The menu at the school is changed every day by the chef Sergio Vitale, who works with a team of five to produce about 650 meals a day for children and staff.

Louise Nichols, the executive head, says the focus is on “making fresh unprocessed easy meals rather than ‘healthy, which is the kiss of death to any school dinner hall”.

Creativity in the kitchen is encouraged. “The chefs develop their own styles and also respond to what the children like while still pushing them to eat things they don’t eat usually.” she says.

There are no packed lunches so pupils all eat together. Staff take-up of school food is about 85 per cent, so pupils sometimes eat with the teachers. Food education is seen as an essential part of the curriculum.

The students have lessons at the nearby Hackney School of Food, where they harvest homegrown produce from the garden and are taught how to prepare it by professional chefs.

Gayhurst was the first to trial a new model of school lunches, which is now being promoted more widely by the charity Chefs in Schools. Nicole Pisani, former head chef at Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant Nopi, ran the school kitchen to restaurant standard, serving grilled radicchio instead of baked beans, quinoa not chips and octopus rather than nuggets. The children loved it and parents queued up to attend fundraising dinners.

In 2018 Pisani and the restaurateur Henry Dimbleby, a Times health commissioner, set up Chefs in Schools to promote the approach more widely. The charity now works in 190 schools with more than 50,000 children across the country from Yorkshire to Devon.

At The Grove School in Totnes, Devon, fish fingers have been replaced by fresh fish from Brixham, prepped and breaded in the school, and tinned sweetcom with celeriac remoulade.

The chef Marco Pilloni previously worked in Michelin-starred restaurants but he prefers his new customers. “Feeding all these kids has a different meaning to feeding paying customers. An early education in a better diet is vital and if I get to inspire these children for the rest of their lives I can’t ask for any more.”