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12 weeks of good food

13 years ago, we set out to feed everybody good fresh food. 13 years on, we have never wavered. Amid panic buying, stock shortages and social distancing, good, fresh food has remained our priority and getting it out to our most vulnerable is our aim.

As the pandemic started to encroach on life as we know it, and talks of lockdown became a reality, requests came flooding in. With meals on wheels being a distant memory in the minds of many we suddenly had a huge problem on our hands: thousands advised not to leave their homes and no door to door delivery service of nutritious, good food.

Needless to say, this was an opportunity for us to set up and deliver the biggest fresh food aid service we have ever attempted. The fresh food-aid service we have long campaigned for.

Day to day we are mainly a food supplier, with our production kitchens pushing out hundreds of freshly made meals daily. Across North Wales, we cater for 8 extra care schemes as well as a primary school in Liverpool and a nursery on the Wirral. With the necessary equipment, professionally trained chefs, and access to a food supply chain we already had the relevant expertise to expand our already existing good food supply, to the vulnerable public.

We have worked in food for over a decade with people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities. We know what food people like and don’t like and we have the capability and knowledge to create dishes approved by children, adults, and older people. Whilst people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities have been pushed to self-isolate we were able to push out a menu that caters for all.

We’ve now surpassed the eighth week of our 12-week programme – although we anticipate the need will continue for much longer. Throughout this time we have delivered over 41,000 fresh meals to vulnerable families and adults across Flintshire and South Liverpool.

During this time, I reached my 6-month checkpoint of being a part of the Can Cook/ Well-Fed team. Moving from social media co-ordinator to fundraiser, to food poverty project facilitator to delivery driver and now production kitchen assistant. Working for our organisation means getting stuck in wherever necessary, whenever necessary. This means pulling in every pair of hands available to help in pushing out meals to those affected by COVID, even if your job title is Managing Director. Its hard graft producing, packaging, and distributing 5000 meals a week between 8 of us but that’s what it means to be part of the Can Cook team. We all have a huge commitment and massively believe in the work we’re doing.

It’s something we say constantly but we always work behind the saying ‘if you feed people well, they are more likely to get out of their crisis and if you don’t, they won’t’ and it’s true. This is a saying that is applicable to all the work we do with people living in food poverty and is particularly relevant to the work we’re doing right now. If you feed people well, they are going to have a stronger immune system, an immune system more capable of fending off a life-threatening illness. If you feed people poorly, their immune system will remain weak and therefore susceptible to life-threatening illnesses. Of course, we’re not claiming good food will protect you entirely from COVID-19 but we are saying you’re far more likely to be able to fend it off with a belly full of nutritious food. It’s as simple as that.

We knew the work we set out to deliver would help people in the community during this time, but we did not anticipate the level of difference our food and the scale of production has made to peoples lives. We’ve had people contact us with various health conditions, disabilities and individual heartbreaking circumstances, who we have been able to point in the right direction to receive food. People who are scared, and people who need reassurance. Knowing that we are making a real difference to the lives of these people is what our work is all about. It makes the 5am alarms and 6pm finishes worth it and for me personally it is exactly what I joined Can Cook to do.

Whilst there doesn’t seem to be a clear end in sight for the work we’re doing at the minute we’re happy to continue knowing that people who are shielding or are in poverty are being offered dignity and choice. COVID-19 has dramatically changed the lives of so many and left livelihoods fragile. We only hope that the fresh food response of so many organisations becomes the new normal in our post-COVID-19 world and as a collective we do not revert back to the poor food aid offers that have been in place for so many years.

If you’d like to keep up to date with the work we’re doing to feed vulnerable people in our communities please follow our new twitter account: https://twitter.com/CanCookKitchen.

Corona Virus: Feeding good people well, unless you are a distorter of the truth

About Can Cook:

We reached our 13th birthday last month. 13 years ago, we set out to put good food into every home we could, with a particular focus on those in poverty.

We are a food producer and have always campaigned.

13 years on, as a food producer we have:

  • Created our own range of meals to sell
  • Created a sustainable business model that caters for schools, nurseries, and care homes

As campaigners, we have:

  • Worked with every part of the community to train people to cook; in homes, nurseries, schools, community centres, care homes and prisons – to name a few.
  • Collectively taught over 15,000 people to cook.
  • Opened pop-up shops and street food trucks.
  • Written and published various cookbooks.
  • Produced cookery, food and food poverty research.
  • Hosted numerous food poverty conferences.
  • Donated over 180,000 free fresh meals to hungry families

 

Regarding Covid-19… In the next 12-week period – We will deliver 50,000 fresh meals to vulnerable adults/children. The service will offer every person a choice of meals.

We are on the frontline every day and, we have a solution to food poverty.

All the work we do is underpinned by the following quotes:

  1. ‘The people who need to be fed the best are fed the worst’ (David Chang, Chef, entrepreneur).
  2. “I have never not eaten before and it was terrible. After the first day you think it isn’t so bad, and then you start to feel sick, like empty inside sick. And then it gets worse and worse, and you just feel hollow inside – ‘We discuss food banks at school gates like its normal’ (BBC March 2020)

When the two above quotes become irrelevant, we will stop campaigning. Until then, our campaigning will focus on feeding people good food and will target any organisation or ‘person’ who knowingly protects the supply of terrible food to vulnerable people.

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Blog – Corona Virus: Feeding good people well, unless you are a distorter of the truth

When hungry and when it’s necessary to fend off life-threatening viruses, people require a healthy diet; a diet able to satisfy their hunger, a diet that will support their immune system. Leading food policy professors noted recently in their following advice to Government – it’s important to ensure that healthy food can and will be delivered to all those who self-isolate or are quarantined. Common sense you would think, but absent from the food aid sector.

In the midst of a public health crisis; a crisis which will threaten the lives of many thousands of good people; a group most threatened will be those who are hungry and as a consequence have very little resilience to sudden illness. The size of this group will grow, as the crisis grows. The response you would expect would therefore be the supply of good food to help people cope. In this space, the Government have given a commitment to feed people during this time – more of this later.

Imagine for a moment you are the person who is describing their hunger at the start of this blog. Then imagine you are ill and told to self-isolate, but of course you can’t because you need food for you and your family. Then by breaking the rules, you show up at a food bank. At the food banks, you are offered a random selection of terrible food, food that does not hang together as meals. A tin of mushy peas here, a packet of instant noodles/jar of sauce there… and you are told it is nutritiously balanced.

Try and imagine how you would feel. You are hungry, you have the virus and you are having to beg for terrible food to feed you and you are being lied to about the health benefits of the food given. This will happen to tens of thousands of good people and as unemployment climbs, hundreds of thousands more good people will fall into the scope of food aid. And where is the plan for a good-food-offer? Nowhere to be seen. In any other industry this would be seen as an abject failure and those responsible would be out. Not in food aid, those who got us here are still here and those who got us here with their right-wing charity modelling are intending to stay – they are nothing more than social-populists.

We are, in part, a frontline food-aid organisation. The supply of good fresh meals defines our approach. When we deliver to hungry people, they receive nutritious meals they would pick for themselves, if they had the money to purchase. We also make sure dietary needs are catered for. We offer the service others in food aid claim cannot be offered. We offer a service, only ever designed, with the welfare of the hungry in mind.

Locally, it’s a service ready to feed the thousands of people the Government want quarantined and working with the local authorities, we will feed them. Adapting the offer to suit local conditions, we will always start from the nutritional needs of those who find themselves isolated.

So how come we can do this and most everywhere else is crying out for more food bank food – the same food, 8 out of 10 hungry people don’t want. Is it because the food aid hierarchy has no plan for the hungry (other than asking the Government to change policy)? Of course, it is.

Is it also because the same hierarchy now have too much invested in changing nothing? Of course, it is.

This week, we saw the evidence of the Government free supply of food and a supermarket’s attempt to create their own food bank (see below) Intended for people who are vulnerable/quarantined. The Government approach is a typical food bank approach, random processed/unhealthy items; not suitable for meals. The supermarket contains fresh meat intended for meals, but no means to produce those meals. A clear influence of the food bank mentality to diet and cooking. And who has convinced the Government/supermarkets this is the food route to take – The food-aiders of course. Foodbank food delivered to people, who until very recently were paying for their own food. Now they are going to be told they are worth nothing more than a box of unhealthy goods or a slightly better box of well-meaning goods that will at best make 1 family meal and maybe cheese and ham on toast- you take the cookery test and try to produce a series of meals for you and yours from what you see below.

Well done to the food-aiders, you have done your work. You have convinced our Government and food retailers its normal to provide food bank food as a response to a national crisis. Whatever happened to public health and quality of life?

coronavirus

 

Top of the tree of those in the ears of Government/supermarkets, are FareShare and Trussell Trust. Already we have seen ASDA donating a further £5m to them both to assuage any criticism they may get from profiteering from the Covid-19 shopping rush. But will this £5m be spent on improving food for hungry people, of course not. History teaches us otherwise – their respective PR releases tell us this. These organisations are wedded to their terrible-food model, with more of the same to be pushed out. They will spend it on distorting their food facts, paying for expensive management teams and using volunteers to prop up the output of those expensive managers.

We have been told, the food aid hierarchy contains some very clever people – people who have been running organisations for a long time and are good at it. After all, look at the growth of FareShare and Trussell as examples. Really? Is it so hard to grow an organisation, if you are given £12.5m each (by Asda) to do so?  Is it so hard to grow an organisation, if, with all this money, their stock staff base is volunteers? Is it so hard to grow an organisation, if there is a constant grant tap turned on in their favour? And is it so hard to grow an organisation, if there is no pressure to change the model of delivery, even if most don’t want what model sells? What a privileged position these clever leaders are in.

The real skill would be for them to say, ‘we have spent over 10-years getting to where we are now and we know most don’t want what we have. Therefore, let’s create a plan for change. Let’s create a plan that starts with the hungry in mind. Let’s create a real food poverty plan that starts from the position of good food.

Of course, this will not happen and others who continue to sleep-walk with their involvement – others like:

Sustain

Food Ethics Council

Church Action Against Poverty

The Food Foundation and;

IFAN

Will continue to support FareShare and Trussell as the key distorters of good food facts and they will do so, just at the time hungry people require the exact opposite. It is a distortion planned and rehearsed. A distortion crafted to keep the food aid message legitimate in the minds of a largely naive, mis-informed public, politicians and the funders they continuously court.

Our approach is always based on the truth and feeding people well. When those facts are distorted or lied about, and hungry people are fed terrible food, as campaigners/ pundits, we will continue to write and challenge.

Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman puts it simply; He says, pundits must be ‘honest about dishonesty’ and put right, the actions of ‘bad faith’. The food aid movement is dishonest about the food they dole out and dishonest about their connection to the same food – this is all done in bad faith.

To highlight a number of distortions – distortions that undermine the whole food aid movement and most importantly, keep most hungry people, hungry!

  1. Trussell Trust supported by IFAN and others, state hungry people are offered ‘nutritionally-balanced’ food parcels. It’s a distortion they promote to the public/ media, and push out across food banks to unsuspecting volunteers who use it as some sort of in-house protective mantra.
  2. FareShare claim a meal for a hungry person can be made for 25p and all of free goods they receive and ‘sell on’, somehow end up as meals. Toilet rolls become meals for example. For the record, we estimate FareShare generate 12,500 tonnes of food waste each year. But does anyone care but us?

We can’t work out which of the two are the biggest distorters of the truth, but what we do know is – when facts are distorted and no longer reflect the truth, they become a lie. By the same token, when the same distortion is knowingly re-told, the reseller is a liar. Yet, apply this truth to the lies told by the Food Aid sector and dare challenge them, the best defence the sector can offer is silence, as if it makes the lie go away – it doesn’t, it just embeds the lie still further.

We have written lots on the food quality/ food recycling lies told by the food aid sector and we will no doubt write lots more. Now though, the lies they tell are even more pejorative, because in the middle of the biggest national crisis we have seen since the 2nd World War, some hungry people will be forced to eat the lies and most hungry people will be forced to go without, because of the same lies. As a result, the food aid sector is complicit in creating a ‘food-underclass’ – they know this, because the self-same-clever-people mentioned earlier, are facilitating this.

Until the next time.

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We need to feed children well.

‘THE DIETS OF CHILDREN ARE PARTICULARLY CONCERNING: 47% OF PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN’S DIETARY ENERGY COMES FROM HIGH FAT SALT SUGAR FOODS (HFSS), 85% OF SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FRUIT AND VEGETABLES, MORE THAN 90% ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBRE AND ALL ARE EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR.’

-THE FOOD FOUNDATION 2018

The above quote sets out the narrative for the following discussion piece.

Millions of school age children are struggling with their diet and as a consequence, their health. This piece discusses the need for:

  • School food being recognised as an educator rather than a cost.
  • The preservation of the lunchtime period
  • All stakeholders in the school food supply chain to put children/young people’s health before profit.
  • Family food poverty to become an issue solved by school caterers rather than food banks

 

Introduction:

The school food industry in the UK enormous. Currently there are 32,000 schools located in the UK, which all have children waiting to be fed daily. For the majority of these children, the food provided to them in their school canteens accounts for 25-33% of their daily energy. For many others, a school meal may constitute the only nutritious food they will eat in a day. The importance of school food in a child’s life is unparalleled, and it is incumbent on every school food caterer to ensure their menus are fresh and healthy. In the public eye, schools may well respond positively to a healthy eating agenda but often in practice there is a different tale to be told.

As is typical from businesses and individuals operating within market driven societies, some school catering companies and headteachers alike are fixated on cost, and an abundance of choice. Meaning lunchtimes are seen as a cost base and more regard is paid to a canteens’ range of cheaper meal options, than the quality of its food. The goal is after all to shift product and make a profit. In the recent past, menus have become extensive, and caterers can keep prices down by keeping menu products ultra-processed, and the portions small. This protects the caterer’s gross profit and makes meals easier for school catering staff to reheat and serve. It is a model that acts to keep the caterer and school as the customer, satisfied with their business arrangements, but does little to satisfy the nutritional needs of children.

As an example; many secondary schools have integrated street food options into their canteens as a way of capturing a trend apparent on UK high streets. Options such as these are seen as an exciting way of expanding a menu whilst enticing school age children to choose school dinners. However, when the quality of fresh meals is subverted and replaced only with processed options able to hide behind the terms ‘new’ and ‘street’, the losers in this approach are the children. It is an example where caterers and schools claim to be offering up a good/better menu, due to ‘new’ choices, but the food chosen for children favours cost first. This method of cost over quality, should have no place in a school food model that has ample resource to feed children well in every school, every day.

School food caterers know they can sell a lot of HFSS foods, as these are the foods that many teenagers typically gravitate towards. It is this food group that can often dominate the school canteen. However, it is not the role of a school food caterer to reinforce the poor habits already in place in a mainstream society. Quite the contrary, in an educational setting, the role of a school food caterer is to uphold the highest food standards, to educate children about food and take responsibility for the fact that they have a child’s health and wellbeing in their hands every time they cook.

Above all, children should have access to meals and the provision of a lunchtime that allows them to eat well and of course, excel in their education. School food and lunchtimes should be as important to any Government, local authority, board of governors, headteachers, teachers and caterer as anything else on the school curriculum or anything else that takes place in a school day. Unfortunately, school food is being reduced to little more than a cost and lunchtimes dictated by the needs of the teachers rather than the wellbeing of the child. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Good-Food-Matters:

Nutritious food is of the upmost importance to the wellbeing of everyone. We now know that what we eat is more likely to kill us in the long term than drugs or alcohol, so the best food habits start early on in life. As adults, if we’re lucky enough to have the income to choose, we can always make sure our diets are healthier, tasty, and fulfilling. This is not an option, if you’re the youngest child, or a teenager at school. In fact, throughout their school lives, children, into young adults, have their diets chosen for them by adults (teachers/parents) who have no food expertise or who are following quite generic health guidelines. It is often a path leading to mostly processed, uninteresting food that serves to reinforce those bad food habits that later in life, lead to life threatening conditions.

Food is a tool by which people can do incredible things and cooking well from fresh moves us all towards doing something worthwhile, maybe even incredible. We now have a nation fixated with celebrity chefs and cookbooks. The brand of Jamie Oliver has stretched into the psyche of the majority of school aged children, but do we ever see school food recipes as interesting as some of the food in Jamie’s cookbooks? And do we ever imagine what a school food menu could look like if all the meals were prepared using the freshest ingredients, and served to look as good as those Jamie pushes out? Surely if we did, and surely if we do, we may be somewhere closer to attracting more children into eating school dinners and more children eating good food that protects their health.

Having worked in the community food market for over a decade, we know what children and families like to eat. The choices they make are relatively straight forward. School aged pupils do not have complicated diets, just as we as adults do not have complicated diets. So why are some school food menus enormous and why are the same menus, trying to feed children food they do not recognise in their everyday lives. Good food that resonates with children in their everyday lives matters. Unfortunately, for many children there is a mismatch, and this mismatch is a problem.

School Food and Austerity:

As a good food company working within our community, we have witnessed first-hand the devastation austerity causes as the policy continues to wreak havoc in communities across the UK.  Recently, the Food Foundation published findings that estimate 4 million children currently live in households that struggle to afford food that meets the national nutritional guidelines. At the same time, there are families who struggle to feed their children at all. Food, and more importantly, good food, has never been more of a pressing issue.

Much of what was socially achieved prior to the crash in 2008 has suffered at the hands of austerity, and school food is no different. School food budgets have come into focus and as a consequence for many pupils, school meals reflect only what many parents are able to purchase on any high street; ultra-processed, packaged goods that are set up to be reheated. Moreover, as food poverty spreads and increases across the UK, inadequate responses such as food banks in schools are doing more to worsen the diets of children and normalise the existence of poverty. Austerity has heightened the intensity of a negative food environment that continues to permeate all community food institutions. As a result, children’s health and wellbeing are being impaired on a scale not seen in this country for decades, but school food has the potential to be a key player in turning this around.

Austerity has always been and continues to be quite literally a matter of life and death for those worse off in Britain. One estimate is, 120,000 lives have been cut short as a direct result of austerity measures, put in place by successive Conservative Governments. Whilst cuts continue, in a school/community context, it is the responsibility of headteachers, school caterers and all community educators to protect children’s diets, even in the most austere of times. Without the protection of this simple aspect of life, levels of obesity will continue to rise and with it a whole host of diet related, life threatening diseases.

How we see school food:

Here at Can Cook, we passionately believe in feeding people well. We see school food as the most important element for keeping children/young people healthy and well.  We have created a school food model that will feed every pupil in school good, fresh food and in addition, provide every family struggling in food poverty, free good food for as long as they are in crisis. Every school food provider can offer this service.

Meals form the basis of our school food approach and meals must remain a mainstay of the wider UK school food industry approach. Too many school caterers are substituting meals for options such as sandwiches. Through our work, we will continue to challenge the notion that sandwiches should play an important part of any school food menu. Sandwiches are a snack never a meal, and are often used by school caters as a successful route to improving their gross profit. Often, children who are in poverty, leave school and cheap sandwiches are also the default to meals at home. Sandwiches in school and sandwiches at home make for unhealthy diets and schools should never be a part of creating a diet that damages a young person’s health. Schools have the means to take a lead and remove the sandwich option ensuring every child is able to eat a hearty meal, each day, every day. Being on the frontline of poverty for 13 years, we have explored the dangers of sandwiches in a child’s diet many times and summarised some of our thoughts in a previous blog: https://www.cancook.co.uk/2017/09/

School food caterers have a duty to feed children well and to do so, a good fresh meal should always be the main offer during lunchtimes.

Reluctance for Change – Why do pupils choose poor foods?

We are all victims of food marketing and the charade marketing creates, depicting poor-food as anything but poor. Children spend most of their childhood at school, and as such, school food is incredibly influential in reinforcing either good or bad food habits onto children. Outside school, children and families are bombarded by poor-food marketing/influences, and if both in and out of school the influences and images are conjoined, the race is only ever to an unhealthy bottom.

It has been estimated that up to 60% of people from any demographic never cook at home, so poor-food habits are already entrenched. In these circumstances, changing habits is difficult, but not impossible. A great place to start is in the school canteen, and it is incumbent on all teachers and caterers alike to create a good-food culture for every pupil, in every school.

We need to move past the current situation where our veg consumption is no better than in the 1970’s even after campaigns such as five-a-day. We require a new approach and narrative driven by the provision of good food, full of vegetables, that will encourage children to eat – this is not difficult but many school food caterers do not want to do the work and many schools are ignorant to the facts.

Schools are changemakers otherwise what is the point of them? But if they are to ignore school food as an important part of their changemaking, they are stepping aside of their duties and are no more than facilitators in the poor-health of the children they take into their trust. This is a fact and a fact that is easy to rectify.

The importance of the lunch hour

Like all institutions, a school day is organised around food. Like adults at work, most children look forward to their lunch hour. It is a period of respite that they require, to curb their hunger and recuperate before an afternoon of work. However, on top of ignoring the importance of good food some schools are ignoring the importance of the lunchtime period as a vital/pivotal tool in a child’s education.

In some communities there has been a discussion/move to adjust and shorten the school lunchtime – to later in the day and to only 30 mins – but how does this benefit the child? It is a move wholly predicated on the concerns of the teacher/school, as opposed to the welfare and education of the child.  Just take a minute to picture your own working lunchtime routine and compare it to the new suggested lunchtime to be potentially forced on pupils. Imagine for instance your employer allowing you to purchase food from one retailer, and installing a shorted lunchtime than means you have to stay put in one place and you can’t eat it until much later in the day (1.30pm to be exact) – Imagine the reaction that would ensue? So why would any consideration be paid to enforcing the same regime onto children?

Changes to their timetables have exposed schools for failing to recognise the reality of life for their pupils. For example, according to a survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation, one in four secondary school pupils skip breakfast on their average school day. This could be for a number of reasons, including lack of income, but the fact remains the same: for a quarter of all secondary schoolers, their first meal of the day is their lunch. Schools who are thinking about these changes or are already squeezing lunchtimes are evidently ignorant to the lives of the pupils they are responsible for.

Children who are forced to wait for their lunch become hungrier and more disruptive, with plenty of evidence that even the shortest term, hunger causes behavioural issues. This ongoing cycle of poor-food practice around children catalyses immediate problems of poor behaviour in school as well as wider issues of depression, poor body image and longer lasting health effects – to name just a few. Protected lunchtimes and good-food is simply common sense and must become the starting point for any school to become recognised as a good-school.

A Call for Change

Austerity and the poor-food practice that surrounds it is creating a food-underclass. This underclass are being forced to eat food that most people would never choose to eat. In inner cities, the circumstances leading to a child becoming part of this underclass is affecting about 2 in 5 children and the numbers are growing. In any community, schools are integral to the development of the children they take in and the wider community they tie into. They have incredible power and influence and it is this power and influence that can bring about the most positive change in a child’s diet and wellbeing.

We have set out here some concerns about the direction school food has gone in, and to finish provide here, a list of improvements/changes, every school can make or maintain if they want to feed children and young people well;

  • Set menus that are about the wellbeing of the child not the gross profit of the catering provider.
  • Protect the lunchtime as sacrosanct in the school day
  • Remove sandwiches as a main meal option in all schools
  • Serve only fresh meals to children during their lunchtimes
  • Make sure all school meals are relevant to the eating habits of the children they serve
  • Provide a good-food safety net for hungry families caught up in food poverty

All of the above are simple changes to make, easy to implement and can be afforded, therefore any school that remains outside of the above, chooses to do so.

One final thought…We operate our school food model behind a simple message:

If you feed a child well, they are more likely to study/live well, if you don’t, they won’t.

Let’s hope it catches on.

 

,

The importance of the lunch hour and how we create change.

Like all institutions, a school day is organised around food. Like adults at work, most children look forward to their lunch hour. It is a period of respite that they require, to curb their hunger and recuperate before an afternoon of work. However, on top of ignoring the importance of good food some schools are ignoring the importance of the lunchtime period as a vital/pivotal tool in a child’s education.

In some communities there has been a discussion/move to adjust and shorten the school lunchtime – to later in the day and to only 30 mins – but how does this benefit the child? It is a move wholly predicated on the concerns of the teacher/school, as opposed to the welfare and education of the child.  Just take a minute to picture your own working lunchtime routine and compare it to the new suggested lunchtime to be potentially forced on pupils. Imagine for instance your employer allowing you to purchase food from one retailer, and installing a shorted lunchtime than means you have to stay put in one place, and you can’t eat it until much later in the day (1.30pm to be exact) – Imagine the reaction that would ensue? So why would any consideration be paid to enforcing the same regime onto children?

Changes to their timetables have exposed schools for failing to recognise the reality of life for their pupils. For example, according to a survey conducted by the British Nutrition Foundation, one in four secondary school pupils skip breakfast on their average school day. This could be for a number of reasons, including lack of income, but the fact remains the same: for a quarter of all secondary schoolers, their first meal of the day is their lunch. Schools who are thinking about these changes or are already squeezing lunchtimes are evidently ignorant to the lives of the pupils they are responsible for.

Children who are forced to wait for their lunch become hungrier and more disruptive, with plenty of evidence that even the shortest term, hunger causes behavioural issues. This ongoing cycle of poor-food practice around children catalyses immediate problems of poor behaviour in school as well as wider issues of depression, poor body image and longer lasting health effects – to name just a few. Protected lunchtimes and good-food is simply common sense and must become the starting point for any school to become recognised as a good-school.

Across the last few days we have discussed how school food can make a significant difference to children’s lives and to the environment of every school that wishes to feed children based on their education not the cost of a meal.

Austerity and the poor-food practice that surrounds it is creating a food-underclass. This underclass are being forced to eat food that most people would never choose to eat. In inner cities the circumstances leading to a child becoming part of this underclass is affecting about 2 in 5 children and the numbers are growing. In any community, schools are integral to the development of the children they take in and the wider community they tie into. They have incredible power and influence and it is this power and influence that can bring about the most positive change in a child’s diet and wellbeing.

We have set out here some concerns about the direction school food has gone in, and to finish provide here, a list of improvements/changes every school can make or maintain if they want to feed children and young people well;

  • Set menus that are about the wellbeing of the child not the gross profit of the catering provider.
  • Protect the lunchtime as sacrosanct in the school day
  • Remove sandwiches as a main meal option in all schools
  • Serve only fresh meals to children during their lunchtimes
  • Make sure all school meals are relevant to the eating habits of the children they serve
  • Provide a good-food safety net for hungry families caught up in food poverty

All of the above are simple changes to make, easy to implement and can be afforded, therefore any school that remains outside of the above, chooses to do so.

 

One final thought…We operate our school food model behind a simple message:

If you feed a child well, they are more likely to study/live well, if you don’t, they won’t.

Let’s hope it catches on.

,

School Food and Austerity – Why good food matters.

As a good food company working within our community, we have witnessed first-hand the devastation austerity causes as the policy continues to wreak havoc in communities across the UK.  Recently, the Food Foundation published findings that estimate 4 million children currently live in households that struggle to afford food that meets the national nutritional guidelines. At the same time, there are families who struggle to feed their children at all. Food, and more importantly, good food, has never been more of a pressing issue.

Much of what was socially achieved prior to the crash in 2008 has suffered at the hands of austerity, and school food is no different. School food budgets have come into focus and as a consequence for many pupils, school meals reflect only what many parents are able to purchase on any high street; ultra-processed, packaged goods that are set up to be reheated. Moreover, as food poverty spreads and increases across the UK, inadequate responses such as food banks in schools are doing more to worsen the diets of children and normalise the existence of poverty. Austerity has heightened the intensity of a negative food environment that continues to permeate all community food institutions. As a result, children’s health and wellbeing are being impaired on a scale not seen in this country for decades, but school food has the potential to be a key player in turning this around.

Austerity has always been and continues to be quite literally a matter of life and death for those worse off in Britain. One estimate is, 120,000 lives have been cut short as a direct result of austerity measures, put in place by successive Conservative Governments. Whilst cuts continue, in a school/community context, it is the responsibility of headteachers, school caterers and all community educators to protect children’s diets even in the most austere of times. Without the protection of this simple aspect of life, levels of obesity will continue to rise and with it a whole host of diet related, life threatening diseases.

Nutritious food is of the upmost importance to the wellbeing of everyone. We now know that what we eat is more likely to kill us in the long term than drugs or alcohol, so the best food habits start early on in life. As adults, if we’re lucky enough to have the income to choose, we can always make sure our diets are healthier, tasty, and fulfilling. This is not an option if you’re the youngest child, or a teenager at school. In fact, throughout their school lives, children, into young adults, have their diets chosen for them by adults (teachers/parents) who have no food expertise or who are following quite generic health guidelines. It is often a path of mostly processed, uninteresting food that serves to reinforce those bad food habits that later in life lead to life threatening conditions.

Food is a tool by which people can do incredible things and cooking well from fresh moves us all towards doing something worthwhile, maybe even incredible. We now have a nation fixated with celebrity chefs and cookbooks. The brand of Jamie Oliver has stretched into the psyche of the majority of school aged children, but do we ever see school food recipes as interesting as some of the food in Jamie’s cookbooks? And do we ever imagine what a school food menu could look like if all the meals were prepared using the freshest ingredients, and served to look as good as those Jamie pushes out? Surely if we did, and surely if we do, we may be somewhere closer to attracting more children into eating school dinners and more children eating good food that protects their health.

Having worked in the community food market for over a decade, we know what children and families like to eat. The choices they make are relatively straight forward. School aged pupils do not have complicated diets, just as we as adults do not have complicated diets. So why are some school food menus enormous and why are the same menus, trying to feed children food they do not recognise in their everyday lives. Good food that resonates with children in their everyday lives matter. Unfortunately, for many children there is a mismatch, and this mismatch is a problem.

We are all victims of food marketing and the charade marketing creates depicting poor-food as anything but poor. Children spend most of their childhood at school, and so school food is incredibly influential in reinforcing either good or bad food habits onto children. Outside school, children and families are bombarded by poor-food marketing/influences, and if both in and out of school the influences and images are conjoined, the race is only ever to an unhealthy bottom.

It has been estimated that up to 60% of people from any demographic never cook at home, so poor-food habits are already entrenched. In these circumstances, changing habits is difficult, but not impossible. A great place to start is in the school canteen, and it is incumbent on all teachers and caterers alike to create a good-food culture for every pupil, in every school.

We need to move past the current situation where our veg consumption is no better than in the 1970’s even after campaigns such as five-a-day (Food Foundation). We require a new approach and narrative driven by the provision of good food, full of vegetables, that will encourage children to eat – this is not difficult but many school food caterers do not want to do the work and many schools are ignorant to the facts.

Schools are changemakers otherwise what is the point of them? But if they are to ignore school food as an important part of their changemaking, they are stepping aside of their duties and are no more than facilitators in the poor-health of the children they take into their trust. This is a fact and a fact that is easy to rectify.

In our final instalment of this 3-part discussion piece on school food we shall be exploring the importance of the lunch hour and how we create change.

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We need to feed children well.

 

‘THE DIETS OF CHILDREN ARE PARTICULARLY CONCERNING: 47% OF PRIMARY SCHOOL CHILDREN’S DIETARY ENERGY COMES FROM HIGH FAT SALT SUGAR FOODS (HFSS), 85% OF SECONDARY SCHOOL CHILDREN ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FRUIT AND VEGETABLES, MORE THAN 90% ARE NOT EATING ENOUGH FIBRE AND ALL ARE EATING TOO MUCH SUGAR.’

-THE FOOD FOUNDATION 2018

The above quote sets out the narrative for following and subsequent discussion pieces.

Setting the Scene

Millions of school age children are struggling with their diet and as a consequence, their health. This piece discusses the need for:

  • School food being recognised as an educator rather than a cost.
  • The preservation of the lunchtime period
  • All stakeholders in the school food supply chain to put children/young people’s health before profit.
  • Family food poverty to become an issue solved by school caterers rather than food banks

Here at Can Cook, we passionately believe in feeding people of all ages well and we see school food as the most important element for keeping children/young people healthy and active.  We have created a school food model that will feed every pupil in school good, fresh food and in addition, will provide every family struggling in food poverty, free, good food for as long as they are in crisis. The school food industry is enormous. Currently there are 32,000 schools located in the UK, which all have children waiting to be fed daily. Meaning every school food provider has the means to offer the service described above.

Meals form the basis of our school food approach and meals must remain a mainstay of the wider UK school food industry approach. Too many school caterers are substituting meals for options such as sandwiches. Through our work, we will continue to challenge the notion that sandwiches should play an important part of any school food menu. Sandwiches are a snack, never a meal, and are frequently used by school caters as a successful route to improving their gross profit. Often, children who are in poverty, leave school and cheap sandwiches are also the default to meals at home. Sandwiches in school and sandwiches at home makes for an unhealthy diet and schools should never be a part of creating a diet that damages a young person’s health. Schools have the means to take a lead and remove the sandwich option, ensuring every child is able to eat a hearty meal, each day, every day. Being on the frontline of poverty for 13 years, we have explored the dangers of sandwiches in a child’s diet many times and summarised some of our thoughts in a previous blog: https://www.cancook.co.uk/2017/09/

For the majority of children, the food provided to them in their school canteens accounts for 25-33% of their daily energy. For many others, a school meal may constitute the only nutritious food they will eat in a day. The importance of school food in a child’s life is unparalleled, and it is incumbent on every school food caterer to ensure their menus are fresh and healthy, and a good, fresh meal is always the main offer at lunchtime. In the public eye, schools may well respond positively to this kind of healthy eating agenda but often in practice there is a different tale to be told.

As is typical from businesses and individuals operating within market driven societies, some school catering companies and headteachers alike are fixated on cost, and an abundance of choice. Meaning lunchtimes are seen as a cost base, and more regard is paid to a canteens’ range of cheaper meal options, than the quality of its food. The goal is after all to shift product and make a profit. In the recent past, menus have become extensive, and caterers can keep prices down by keeping the products ultra-processed, and the portions small. This protects the caterer’s gross profit and makes meals easier for school catering staff to reheat and serve. It is a model that acts to keep the caterer and school as the customer, satisfied with their business arrangements, but does little to satisfy the nutritional needs of children.

As an example; many secondary schools have integrated street food options into their canteens as a way of capturing a trend apparent on UK high streets. Options such as these are seen as an exciting way of expanding a menu whilst enticing school age children to choose school dinners. However, when the quality of fresh meals is subverted and replaced only with processed options able to hide behind the terms ‘new’ and ‘street’, the losers in this approach are the children. It is an example where caterers and schools claim to be offering up a good/better menu, due to ‘new’ choices, but the food chosen for children favours cost first. This method of cost over quality, should have no place in a school food model that has ample resource to feed children well in every school, every day.

School food caterers know they can sell a lot of HFSS foods, as these are the foods that many teenagers typically gravitate towards. It is this food group that can often dominate the school canteen. However, it is not the role of a school food caterer to reinforce the poor habits already in place in a mainstream society. Quite the contrary, in an educational setting, it is the role of a school food caterer to uphold the highest food standards, to educate children about food and take responsibility for the fact that they have a child’s health and wellbeing in their hands every time they cook.

Above all, children should have access to meals and the provision of a lunchtime that allows them to eat well and of course, excel in their education. School food and lunchtimes should be as important to any Government, local authority, board of governors, headteachers, teachers and caterer as anything else on the school curriculum or anything else that takes place in a school day. Unfortunately, school food is being reduced to nothing more than a cost and lunchtimes dictated by the needs of the teachers rather than the wellbeing of the child. It doesn’t have to be like this.

Social change, including the importance of good food, has somewhat been placed on hold as a result of austerity and its devastating effects. Tomorrow we shall be discussing the reality of school food under austerity and how in spite of this, good food should remain a priority.