School food, done properly..

chicken-chow-mein

 

 

Laura McCumiskey joined the Can Cook Team as Development Manager in the Summer of 2015, part of her time at Can Cook has been spent developing Good Food models for all of our customers; ensuring that everybody we meet is able to access good quality, fresh foods that support their nutritional needs. Laura is particularly passionate about food for children and has worked closely alongside our chefs to develop our school food model, consisting of entirely fresh foods that expose children to a whole variety of different tastes and textures, designed to maximise their ability to learn at school and to impact positively on the choices they make about food in later life. 

 

School food stirs up all kinds of different memories for different people; for me, it was turkey twizzlers, smiley faces, chips and beans, other people reminisce about delicious home cooked food. If you talk to somebody who had school dinners 20 years before me, they might talk about porridge and gruel. Either way, Jamie Oliver’s School Food Revolution presented a positive, welcome change to school food culture; educating school teachers, kitchen staff and head teachers on the importance of good food for children and how it supports their learning and growth. Ultimately providing better food for children and making lunchtimes a pleasant experience. However, the time we’ve spent in primary schools whilst developing our service has shown us that there is still work to be done on school food.

School menus usually present as an array of exciting good, fresh food options for children but the reality is often very different. Jarred sauces and packet soups, full of sugar, salt and strange artificial ingredients that definitely aren’t providing any additional benefits for the child consuming the food. Fine, if you choose to eat those types of food but not great for children who have no choice at school and are often too young to know the difference. In addition  to this, some primary school aged children are provided with up to 5 different lunch options, resulting in them returning to the familiarity of the sandwich section, daily, having limited exposure to new textures and flavours and becoming hungry again mid-afternoon. Any parent who has collected a hungry child up from school knows what a headache it can be to satisfy their hunger without ruining their appetite for their evening meal, and not to mention the level of waste this create for school kitchen staff.

For some schools, lunchtimes deliver a huge headache; getting hundreds of children fed within a short time frame, especially when presented with fussy eaters, allergens and dietary requirements. It’s no wonder that schools outsource this provision to external companies. However, school caterers – us being one of them – are providing children with almost 200 meals per year each, so we must take full responsibility for ensuring that the options presented to them are, tasty, nutritious and don’t contain anything that may be harmful to their developing bodies and minds. This comes in alongside supporting fussy eaters, spending a little more time with children who need some more encouragement, ensuring that lunchtime is a pleasant experience for them and that trying new foods isn’t a daunting prospect. After all, school food plays a much bigger role in the lives of children than just fuelling them at school, it enables them to play and learn an importantly, it impacts on the choices they make about food throughout their lives. If children are exposed to a variety of foods through their early years, they will be likely to develop a positive relationship with food and make healthier food choices when they are presented to them as older children or adults, ultimately contributing to their health and wellbeing well into adulthood.

When we designed our school food service, we took all of this into account, formulating menus and recipes that set children up for afternoon lessons. Maximising their learning potential whilst opening up a whole world of tasty, fresh food options without overwhelming their developing palettes. Children are presented with two or three options, usually one or two meat or fish options and one vegetarian option, both are made up of adequate portions of protein and starch, and accompanied by seasonal vegetables. Through the warmer months, we sometimes swap a hot dish for a cold pasta salad or quiche. Neither dish is treated as the ‘main’ dish, children make their choice based on that day’s preference. Hot meals are supplemented by a salad bar, usually comprising of one or two composite salads – coleslaw, potato salads, noodle salads and so on, and a range of sliced and diced salad items, cucumber, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn – a healthy list of fresh ingredients.

This approach allows us to cater for individual taste preferences whilst still encouraging children to have a good, nutritious lunch that will support their learning through the afternoon’s lessons, allowing them to better absorb the information they receive in the classroom.

We complement the school food system with cookery lessons for parents and children and maintain a presence in school communications, providing recipes in the school newsletters and tips for encouraging healthier food choices at home. This all actively contributes to a positive school food culture, engaging parents and children in fresh food choices and providing achievable options for them.

Our next step is to introduce our Good Food Schools Programme which will stop food poverty amongst children and parents.

If you’d like to speak to us about good food solutions at your school, contact laura@cancook.co.uk or on 0151 728 3109.

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