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Councillor shares experience of living with coeliac during school dinner debate 

A FLINTSHIRE councillor has shared his experience of living with coeliac disease which can significantly restrict diet, during a discussion about school meals.

At a meeting of the council’s climate change committee, cabinet member for the environment, Caergwrle Cllr Dave Healey (Lab) spoke about having the condition which attacks the immune system, the gut and tissues, when eating gluten and which prevents the body taking in nutrients. It can cause a range of symptoms including abdominal pain.

Cllr Dave Healey

The committee was discussing work currently being carried out by the Welsh Local Government Association towards revising the existing legal guidance on healthy eating in schools.

Consultation has been carried out with pupils in Flintshire with feedback suggesting they wish to see more vegetarian / vegan options readily available on the school dinner menu.

The council’s main contractor NEWydd Catering and Cleaning has reviewed the food options.

As a result of the revamp, theme days will take place each month to promote different cuisines, with a range of theme days planned, including a totally meat-free day in May next year.

While the prospect of healthier options was welcomed by Cllr Healey, he warned against restricting choices for children who may be fussy eaters or have conditions such as his own.

He said: “The question of school meals is a sensitive one. Some of them are very fussy eaters as children can be and I’m just worried that the restriction of choice might well put them off having a school meal. For some children a school meal is the most important one they have that day.

“Yes if children are starving they will eat out of bins – that’s what we’ve been told. But there are other children who are fussy eaters.

“I myself have developed coeliac disease and have particular dietary issues which have become more complex as time moves on.

“I can’t eat anything with wheat so for children who have an allergy to gluten, plant-based meals will then need to have something that is gluten-free and that adds to the complexity of the situation.”

Cllr Healey added: “I am worried about limiting the choice for children.

“As a coeliac if I go to restaurants I sometimes find that there is nothing gluten-free, which disappoints me, or I find that maybe they’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to make gluten free fish fingers and that’s the only option.

“But on that particular day I might not wish to have fishy breath, and I might not want that particular option, because I’m a fussy eater. So I can identify with those children who may be fussy eaters and may be put at a disadvantage because of the limitation of choice, but I understand why we do what we do.”

Other councillors had queries about the message being sent out.

Argoed and New Brighton Cllr Mared Eastwood (Lib Dem) said: “I’m generally supportive of more choice being given to schools with more nutritional and a wider range of food options for children to choose from.”

But she questioned whether there was greater nutritional value to pulse protein based meals over sustainably raised meat protein options.

Caerwys Cllr Steve Copple (Ind) also queried whether meat free meals would be a cheaper cost to the council.

He said: “I’m a bit unsure of having a meat free day, and the absolute benefit of what that will achieve apart from demonstrating that there is a seriousness about meat free options.

“What will it get us? From a costing point of view is it clear that such an option is actually cheaper than the alternative?”

Earlier in the meeting Cllr Healey spoke of the importance of agriculture for Flintshire and economy and working with farmers.

He said: “I think they (farmers) don’t really think the council cares about them and it’s true to say that we’ve never had any reports on any committee I’m aware of about the importance of agriculture in the economy or anything to do with that.

“I think it’s important that we retain a good working relationship with farmers. There are some farmers within Flintshire who are doing a very good job in order to reduce emissions.”

He pointed to Swans Farm in Treuddyn as an example and called for a good working relationship with the farming community to be kept.
Councillors voted to note the report on current school meal provision and the Welsh Local Government Association review.