Turkey twizzlers, lumpy custard and soggy vegetables: staples of the school dinner hall but also the object of derision for many schoolkids.

But change could be on the horizon thanks to a national competition that will celebrate the very best fare on offer to pupils across Scotland.

In a major drive aimed at recognising and improving the standard of the meals they serve to pupils, schools are being asked to step up to the plate and take part in the first-ever food awards to be held in the country’s education sector.

Organisers of the Scottish School Food Awards (SSFA) said the initiative would celebrate learning establishments that prioritise highquality food, nutrition and wellbeing programmes – and encourage others to follow suit. Open to state-run, private and public schools, as well as early learning centres, caterers, suppliers and technology firms, the competition’s 10 categories will be judged by leading independent experts from across education, food service, technology and business.

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Organisers said that, as well as boosting pupil health, the awards could help improve attainment and learning outcomes. Co-founder Chris Sheppardson, of Claymore Events, said: “The link between substandard nutrition and poor mental health has never been more relevant.

“There’s a clear connection between healthier lifestyles and the positive impact this can have on a child’s ability to learn and participate while at school.

“We see it as fuelling productivity and it underpins the very reason for launching these new awards.”

Fellow co-founder Alex Buchanan, who helped launch the long-established Catering Scotland Excellence (CIS) Awards, agreed. He said: “Institutions across the country are recognising the benefits of providing high quality food, effective nutritional initiatives and dedicated, experienced staff.

“Aside from their core relevance in daily life, these factors can also influence parents’ choice of school for their children.”

John Edward, director at the Scottish Council of Independent Schools and a member of the SSFA judging board, has predicted interest in the new awards will be high within his sector.

“Independent schools take the fun matter of what to eat very seriously,” he said. “Expectations of quality and choice, combined with cultural and dietary demands, make the provision of meals for day and boarding schools a high priority.

“Added to that, pupils themselves are on the lookout for food that is nutritious and supports their learning and activity levels, that is ethically sourced in a sustainable way.

“The dining hall is as much a place of education as the classroom, the sports field, the concert hall or the mountainside.”

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A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are determined to support the health and wellbeing of our children and young people and schools have a key role to in providing balanced, nutritious food and drink every day.

“All councils must provide meals in schools that meet the strict nutritional requirements set out in our school food regulations. Our regulations ensure school meals are healthier than ever before by increasing access to fruit and vegetables and reducing the amounts of sugar available.

“Our internationally recognised school food and drink standards have been in place since 2008, building on the work Scotland has done to improve school food provision since 2002.”

The awards are being supported by a number of prominent sponsor organisations. These include Auris Tech, Compass Scotland, 50 Shades Greener and Thomas Franks. The lead sponsor is Swiss Education Group, which represents the world’s top hospitality schools in Switzerland.

Entries are open and close on Friday, March 18. The presentation event will take place at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, on Friday, May 27. For more information about the awards and details of how to enter, visit www.schoolfoodawards.com.