Dinner lady cooks style on a budget

dinnerlady''Eckington School chef Karen Broom, with the �1.35 menu she's pinning her hopes on in the School Chef of The Year regional finals
dinnerlady''Eckington School chef Karen Broom, with the �1.35 menu she's pinning her hopes on in the School Chef of The Year regional finals
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Shredded paprika pork with ribbon pasta or fresh vegetable cannelloni?

It’s a tough call at lunchtime.

But this is not the menu of a swanky bistro... it’s dinner-time at Eckington School, where pupils are used to tucking in to top nosh thanks to the school’s talented cooks.

One of them has won a place in the regional finals of a school dinner-lady cookery contest.

This Friday mum of three Karen Broom, from Staveley, will pitch her skills against three other regional winners, from Bradford, Leeds and Whitby with a nutritious and appetising two-course meal... for the meagre sum of £1.35.

The food must be on-budget and whet the appetite of 11-year-olds and the winner will go forward to the national School Chef of the Year contest, run by the Local Authority Caterers Association to raise the reputation of the nation’s dinner ladies.

School meals improved dramatically after Jamie Oliver’s TV campaign highlighted the junk food being dished up to pupils.

But still the perception of the school dinner lady as a part-time amateur helping out in the kitchens persists, says Karen, a trained chef who joined the staff at Eckington in 2005 with years of bakery and confectionary experience.

“We’re a long way from sausage rolls and chips now; we cook wholesome, healthy and flavour-packed meals from scratch every day and the kids love it. But people often don’t realise the skills that are in the school kitchen, ” says Karen.

Karen’s chicken breast burger served between patties of sweet potato already has the thumbs-up from Eckington pupils.

It will be up against exotic dishes like Caribbean Chicken & Mango Kebabs, but Karen, aged 43, reckons her pudding is her secret weapon.

It’s a Shreddie Muffin, made with shredded wheat soaked in strawberry milkshake, with strawberries and a crunchy crumble topping.