The noise is deafening in the dining room of the public school San Bartolomé, in Fresnedillas de la Oliva, a town of 2,800 inhabitants in the west of Madrid. 23 children from 2 to 8 years old prepare, between shouting and games, to eat. First, chickpea salad with tuna and beetroot. Next, baked salmon with tomato salad. "An innovation of the chef", says the director of the center, Cristina Del Pozo. This is the third course that José María Pizarro, Chema, works between the kitchen with the music of the radio station. But four years ago, in San Bartolomé there was no cook and the food arrived in trays. This school is an example of a powerful reality: more and more families demand their own kitchens in schools to banish catering.
In Valderrobles (Teruel) some parents of the Vicente Ferrer public school undertook a battle in 2016 for cooking. They made it. And since the last year Serunion manages it, a restaurant company. Before another company served them catering. "We wanted more quality food," says Javier Ciprés, father of a fifth grade student.
And it is that in Aragon the catering it is in retreat. The autonomous government will build kitchens this year in nine schools. "We respond to a growing demand", reasons José María Rodríguez, from the Department of Education. For experts, having kitchens in schools is essential, but "they are not built for economic reasons, according to Santiago Atrio, architect and professor specialized in education at the Autonomous University of Madrid.
However, 60% of public schools in nine autonomous communities do not cook, according to a report prepared this year by the NGO Del campo al cole in collaboration with the Spanish Confederation of Parents of Students (Ceapa). The study reports that the catering It is not the best for the almost two million Spanish minors who eat at school (the Valencian Community does not provide data). According to this report, four companies share 70% of the dining rooms. A model that criticizes Victoria Lea, a spokesperson for Ceapa, because "it does not allow the participation of families and schools in the elaboration of the menus".
The communities with the highest prices are the Balearic Islands, where the school menu costs 6.50 euros, and Catalonia (6.20 euros). Navarra follows them, where mothers and fathers pay 6.25 euros for their children's meals. On the other hand, Canarias and Melilla, with 3 euros per day of dining, are the autonomies with the most economical menus.
The prices of school menus were frozen in the 2017-2018 academic year, after years of increases and in this almost all communities, including Madrid, have maintained prices, except in the Canary Islands, where they have gone down, and in the Balearic Islands, Extremadura and La Rioja where they have increased.
He catering It works with hot and cold line models to transport and preserve food. Serunion ensures that, although the usual thing is that the food is consumed in a week, it can take up to 20 days. And they affect that quality is not diminished.
This is corroborated by Dr. Rosaura Leis, secretary of the nutrition committee of the Spanish Pediatric Association. "If you follow the steps, it is correct," says Leis, who warns that the essential thing is for children to follow a balanced diet. Serunion maintains that it complies with the consensus document approved by Health in 2010, but Ceapa reproaches the lack of transparency, because "no company has revealed the composition of school menus." Something very different from what happens in France, where in almost all cities you can consult on-line the school menu of the month, informs Silvia Ayuso.
In Spain, the regulations require that a dietitian paute the diet. These specialists are hired by the catering companies; something that for the deputy of Podemos in the Assembly of Madrid Miguel Ardanuy is a trap, since "the professional is not neutral". Ardanuy, who defended a proposal that did not prosper for that the management of the cafeterias falls on the centers, he assures by telephone that the quality of the menus "should be guaranteed by a nutritionist in charge of the Administration".
The professor of the University of Barcelona (UB) Jesús Contreras directed in 2012 a study in the observatory of the feeding of this university that approached the composition of 50 school menus. The report warns that there are differences between what is programmed and what children eat, because the menus can be unbalanced in transport. For Contreras, the important thing is that little time passes since the food is prepared and the ingredients are fresh: "Sometimes it is served long before the children arrive, which makes it less appetizing," he explains by telephone.
The NGO Del campo al cole warns that the catering It affects the appetite because it prevents some cooking methods, according to the coordinator, Andrés Muñoz. Something recognized by the companies, who say they are working to improve: "Frits and plates do not reach perfect cold textures in line, but they are being replaced by baked goods," argues Patricia Barajas de Serunion.
Julia Del Valle is one of the mothers of Fresnedillas who has fought the most to recover the kitchen. Account that the children did not like cold food online, because it was not appetizing. But thanks to Chema the children eat with more enthusiasm. The parents and the director of the center meet with the chef to suggest changes in the menus to Mediterránea, the company that manages the kitchen. "Fortunately, they respect that they have not precooked," says Del Valle, who adds that it is not usual in the sector.
Nutritionist Alejandro Moruno criticizes the presence of these foods: "They serve them because children like them more and eat them without problems". In Fresnedillas, the star dish of Chema is the vegetable lasagna. There they have managed to enjoy fresh and healthy food: "I like beets," says a 6-year-old girl with a full mouth smiling, the children have returned to school in September and the kitchen wants to return with them.