The ‘My Best School Dinner’ competition shows an appetite for school meals in Somerset

The Children’s Food Trust is working with Somerset County Council to help schools in the region increase the number of children having school meals. This work is part of the Department for Education and Children’s Food Trust programme to increase school meal take up in junior & secondary schools as well as academies.

Having seen the dedication and belief in improving the health and wellbeing of children in Somerset and the way school meals are held central to this ambition, it was a real honour for us to be invited down to Somerset to judge the ‘My Best School Dinner’ competition.

The competition challenged children from across the county to create their ideal school meal with the winning entries being incorporated in to Somerset’s school menu cycle for the coming year. The aim was to get children interested in the food they eat and grow excitement about the fact that some children would also get to eat the very meals they invented.

There was a fantastic response to the competition with more than 300 entries – 11 dishes made the final which was hosted at Frogmary Green Farm in South Petherton. The finalists were aged between 6 and 14 years and were both superbly competent and enthusiastic cooks. They were extremely eager to get started and produced their meals in ample time before impressing the owners of the training kitchen with their tidying up skills too!

Judging was an extremely difficult job with each and every dish being both tasty and attractively presented. The three winners were Emily Morrison with her ‘All in one roast’ – beautifully presented within a large Yorkshire pudding, Alfie Blackwell whose ‘Lasagne Surprise’ gave a new twist to an old favourite utilising wraps in place of pasta and Saffron Beake who wowed the judges with her beautifully presented and delicious tomato and basil tart.

What was immediately obvious when judging this was that the competition was a fantastic way to engage children in what they eat. Hundreds of children got involved and for some it was the first time they’d really taken time to consider the components of a healthy meal together with actually creating their own favourite dish. Of course it also has the added benefit of potentially increasing the number of children wanting to try the winner’s dishes, especially if it was created by their class mates. I’m sure all three dishes will prove to be popular additions to the new menu cycles.
Getting children excited about and interested in school food is what our Increasing School Meal Take Up programme is all about. We’re helping junior and secondary schools, pupil referral units and academies to increase the number of pupils eating school meals.

The benefits of this are clear, it will mean children have a healthy, nutritious meal at lunch and as a result are likely to learn better in the afternoon. Obviously there’s also a financial benefit to schools – with increased take-up making the provision more economically viable and raising additional money that can be put back in to the education of the children. Our programme has been shown to increase take-up by at least 5%.

Our unique support package is available to all local authorities in the South East, South West and East of England. Those local authorities who sign up will receive specialist training so they can deliver the Children’s Food Trust ‘Small Step Improvement programme’, Food Dudes ‘Dining Room Experience’ and a specific marketing plan developed by Elygra Marketing to schools in their area.

To find out more about the programme please visit us here or call 0114 2996930.

School stories: Scunthorpe C of E

A primary school in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, has recently set up a lunch time club where children who receive free school meals can go during the school holidays and eat a healthy hot meal together with teachers who volunteer their time to come and chat with their pupils. Head teacher at Scunthorpe C of E, Jennie Fullwood, told us how for some of school’s more vulnerable youngsters, the club can be a real “lifeline”.

Here at Scunthorpe C of E, many of our pupils come from areas of high deprivation, and that’s something that as a school, we’re really aware of and want to do what we can to support our students and their families.

A lot of our children receive free school meals and we know that for some of them, this can be the only nutritious meal they get that day. To go a whole week, or an entire summer holiday, without regular, nutritious food can be incredibly damaging for them, so we decided that opening our doors during school breaks was definitely something worth investing in.

The club is funded entirely by the school itself, partly by pupil premium, and by other local companies and Trust’s which I approached for their support.

The club was something I’d thought about for a while for a range of different reasons. For a child that is living in an unstable home or has a family who is facing challenging times, just knowing that they have adults around who they can trust and confide in is absolutely vital – which is why we decided that we needed some sort of provision for them out of term time.

Our staff are incredibly supportive, and many of them have volunteered their time to come along and help serve the kids their meals and do activities with them – like basketball and crafts. The children come for a couple of hours and many of them tell us that they wish they could stay longer, and that the lunch they have just eaten is their favourite meal they’ve had all week.

It creates a brilliant atmosphere and really strong relationships between our pupils and staff when they can sit down, in non-uniform, and chat about their day or anything that might be worrying them. It gives them that interaction they might not otherwise have and highlights to them how important it is to sit down and eat good, nutritious food.

Although the benefits are clear for her pupil’s health and well being, there are some challenges. Currently we have around 30 places – all for children on free school meals – but if children don’t show up for whatever reason, we have food that goes to waste. I have staffing costs for my cooks and teaching assistants, to make sure that we can run a constant and reliable service, so we have to make sure the club remains viable.

We’ve thought about creating additional paid for places so that those on free school meals don’t feel singled out, and we can use the money to create a pot of additional funding to keep those existing spaces free for those who need them.

For us, it’s really important that we take a whole school approach, and consider how what is happening in our pupil’s lives may be effecting their education – our lunch club is just one, but a very important, part of that.

Is your school doing really important work around school food? Do you have a story you’d like to share or an issue you’d like to hear others opinions on? Get in touch! Email our media team at

Is Universal Infant Free School Meals mission impossible?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????The weeks and months are certainly flying by, before we know it September will be upon us and all state funded infant and junior schools will be required to provide all reception, year 1 and 2 infant pupils with free school meals.

The Children’s Food Trust and LACA (Lead Association for CAtering in Education) have been running the national advice line for nearly two months now and while its clear many schools are ready for September others still have a lot to do with what can feel like a huge job.

So, is this mission really possible?

Here are five common issues we’ve been asked about and some practical tips to achieving success.

Managing change
This is going to mean changes on many levels. And changing things can put up barriers; people can feel threatened. So involve them from the outset. Find out what your pupils and parents want and what gets them excited, and work with that.

  • Start listening and start talking about it: communicate with everyone who will be affected – caterers, parents and children, teaching and supervisory staff.
  • Use your assemblies, website, letters, surveys and meetings to get their views and ideas, to explain your plan and the benefits it will bring.
  • Invite parents to sample a school meal perhaps on special event days, to encourage their support.

Dining spaces at full stretch
Chances are you can’t build a new one, so think about different ways to use the space you have.

  • Try improving the layout of tables and chairs to create a better flow.
  • Perhaps there are other spaces you can use. One school involved pupils in design ideas to transform four old classrooms into dining spaces, each with 40 seats, and at low cost. Pupils loved this sense of ownership.
  • Consider using outside spaces – especially during summer months.

Making time for everyone to eat
It’s one thing creating new space, but how do you create time? Yet it’s really important to allow children sufficient time to sit, eat and socialise during lunch. Try these ideas.

  • Stagger dining times for different year groups
  • Create a second servery or cutlery point to cut queuing time and bottlenecks
  • Introduce pre-ordering. Some primary schools let children choose their meal during registration and give them a coloured sticker, coloured wrist band or token to show when they collect their lunch.

Having enough staff to cope
More meals, more work, more hands needed on deck. How will you cope?

  • Think about ways the children can help. They love being in charge of jobs!
  • Ask the children to serve themselves. Even most infants can manage this. It can help them control their own portion sizes and reduce waste too
  • Give other children responsibilities for setting tables, collecting their own cutlery and clearing their own plates. One school found this saved 20 minutes of staff time every day.

Small kitchens or no kitchens
So where are you going to cook all these extra meals? Even with no kitchen, it is still possible.

  • Consider installing a ‘pod’ (mobile) kitchen as a fast, cost-effective solution
  • Bring food in from a hub kitchen, which may supply several smaller schools
  • Simplify your menus to simplify production processes
  • Find out what funding is available for your school.

There is also lots of advice and support including case studies from schools who have already made changes to their services on the Children’s Food Trust website at .

And don’t forget our advice line is open 8.30am to 5.00pm for more advice and help, so give us a call – it’s FREE! 0800 680 0080.

Jo Walker is a Children’s Food Advisor for the Children’s Food Trust and works in the project team for the UIFSM Advice Service.

They are where they eat

??????????????????????????????????????????????????You are what you eat, as the saying goes. Yet when I’m out and about in schools, a huge part of the lunchtime experience (and, so often, a huge part of the challenge facing schools) isn’t so much what children eat….but where they eat.

We did some research with pupils on this several years ago, and the results were intriguing. Ask a young person what was more important to them about their lunchtime – particularly at secondary school – and the look and feel of the dining space won hands down over what was on the menu. If they didn’t rate the dining environment; if they had to queue for ages; if they couldn’t get a seat; if they felt cramped or rushed, or that the canteen was noisy or smelly, they simply wouldn’t eat there. Fair enough.

And that’s why a big part of my job, when I’m helping schools wanting to improve and develop their school catering services, is looking at that dining environment. You can have the most fabulous, nutritious and tasty menu in the world but if the kids can’t sit and enjoy their meal in a pleasant space, your efforts aren’t going to reach their full potential. When we’re looking for a place to eat on the high street, we judge first by what the place looks like before we even sit down and grab a menu: why should young people be any different?

It’s easy to assume that this means spending huge amounts of capital. But take a step back. First, you need to eat there yourself. How do you feel, as a customer in that dining space? Sit with your meal and watch how the room is working for pupils – there may be common patterns and problems which you just won’t see unless you eat in the canteen yourself. Next, find out from your pupils what sort of dining room they’d like to see – a simple questionnaire run by your school council will do the trick. What don’t they like about your dining space at the moment? What’s on their ‘wish-list’ for the perfect dining room? Then think about the things on their list which you can fix easily. A dull and dismal paint job can be brightened up relatively inexpensively – get your art class thinking about design ideas for the walls; it’s incredible what a personalised mural can do.

If it’s the layout of chairs and tables that’s fuelling your queues or driving pupils away because they can’t get a seat, try shifting it around and see what happens. You’ve lost nothing by trying, and you might gain valuable new space.

Remember that pupils often respond most positively to dining spaces which emulate the places where they spend time on the high street. Don’t assume you have to spend a lot to create a high street look – gather ideas from pupils first, then think about what you can do with any budget you have. If you’re working on a shoestring, could your dining room be the beneficiary of your school’s fundraising efforts this year?

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that one size never fits all here. There are many, many different options and solutions for making your canteen a more pleasant place to be. We’ve worked with schools which have all sorts of budgets: from those with nothing to spend at all, using older furniture in a new and creative way; to those spending a few hundred quid to switch to proper plates and cutlery; to those raising thousands of pounds for a full overhaul designed by their pupils. What they all share is the understanding that a good school lunch is about far more than just the food – and that it all starts with really listening to what your customers want from their dining room. Without exception, investing a bit of time to improve your dining space so it’s as good as your food will always pay back a good return.

This blog was first published by Educatering Magazine, November 2013. Jeremy Boardman heads up our support for schools. Email Jeremy.

Five school food blogs we all need to remember from 2013

??????????????????????????????????????????????????The TV’s saturated with ‘review of the year’ shows, lists of ‘2013’s most embarrassing celebrity moments’ and special editions of every gameshow going right now. So I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon, and share my picks of the school food blogs I’ve loved this year:

  • This one from school food writer Siobhan O’Neill pulls out some wonderful themes about school meals in Japan – from which we could all learn a lot!
  • In February, our former Chief Executive, Judy Hargadon, wasn’t impressed with some school meals comments by Iceland boss, Malcolm Walker
  • We can’t let 2013 go by without mentioning the School Food Plan. Millions of words have been written about the themes of the plan, but this blog for Mumsnet by the plan’s co-author, John Vincent, summed things up beautifully
  • The announcement that all children in Reception and years 1 and 2 at school will get free school meals from September 2014 had steam coming off the keyboards of commentators on the left, right and centre – this debate on the Guardian’s blog is a great read
  • And this piece from John McDermott on the FT blog was another good one. We’re still waiting for the government’s proposals on how free school meals will work with Universal Credit, but a free lunch at school for all children living in poverty should be the starting point.

What were your favourite school foodie blogs of 2013? Drop your links below!

Jeremy Boardman heads up our schools team. Email Jeremy.

School food in debate: #uksbmchat

??????????????????????????????????????????????????This weekend, we were invited to host the regular Sunday night Twitter chat for school business managers, at #uksbmchat.

The focus was all things school food, catering questions and free school meals for infants. After a busy week of announcements, there were lots of great questions and much to talk about!

Check out UKSBMChat‘s Storify of the chat here:

[View the story "School Catering Funding & FSMs - led by the Child Food Trust, 08/12/13" on Storify]

Don’t forget, if you’ve got school food questions or would like to talk in more detail, you can always tweet the Trust @childfoodtrust or drop me a tweet @cft_jeremy.

Jeremy Boardman heads up our schools support services. Email Jeremy.

My recipe for the new cooking curriculum

EileenMaybe it’s a bit early for a review of the year. But there’s no doubt that one of the stand-out bits of progress for children’s food education from 2013 was the move to put more practical cooking back into the curriculum.

The revised curriculum – which comes into force next September – will mean that more children learn how to cook at school, with lessons right up until they’re 14 years old.

It’s a great step forward – at the moment, too many young people are leaving school not knowing how to cook a decent meal for themselves (which is why we’ve also been working with PizzaExpress on getting kids cooking).

But it will take a bit of planning to get ready for more cooking in the timetable. Is your school thinking about it yet? Don’t struggle alone, wondering where to look for help and advice on the facilities and training your school might need. There are lots of organisations offering some fantastic resources and ideas for teaching cooking; training for teachers on how to cover the basics; and practical support to find the best place in your school to teach practical cookery and to work out what equipment you’ll need.

There are thousands of different ways to approach it – the commitment and confidence to make it happen is half the battle.

So, get in touch with our team to sort out any worries you might have on space, facilities and equipment – then get onto the fun bit! Here’s a bit of food for thought on what sorts of recipes would get cooking in the curriculum off to a flying start: my basics that every child should learn:

  • Basic scone recipe – it’s amazing how something so simple can be so versatile. The recipe itself is great to teach basic weighing, measuring and mixing skills. But it can be made into so many things: savoury scones (parmesan and herb; sundried tomato, olive and feta); scone loaves (garlic and herb is a particular favourite); a simple pizza base; a cobbler; or a crumble. Not forgetting, of course, the basic sultana or other fruit scone, which is where it all begins….
  • Chicken tikka masala – well, it is one of Britain’s favourite dishes! Which? found the average chicken tikka masala in a takeaway contains almost 1400 kcalories. Ours only contains 319kcalories per portion! We teach children how to make their own curry paste from scratch – an excellent opportunity to learn about lots of different herbs and spices, which most children will never have seen before. It’s also the chance to teach proper techniques for handling and cooking meat, and foods from different cultures
  • Basic mince recipes. Every child should learn a basic tomato and mince sauce recipe to turn into spaghetti bolognaise, chilli con carne or lasagne. Show children how to make a ragu sauce so they aren’t relying on jars which can be expensive and high in salt. And this is the time to show children how to cook with meat-free mince as an alternative – cheaper and lower in fat than standard beef or other mince
  • Basic white sauce – the recipe that puts fear into all of us! But learn it well and you’ll never have to rely on expensive shop-bought versions again. Great for using in a fish pie – use oily fish like salmon or frozen prawns to increase omega 3 levels (an essential fatty acid which helps us with heart health)
  • Rainbow cous-cous – these sorts of non-cook, simple dishes make a wonderful way to teach children about safe chopping and peeling, and for delivering the 5-a-day message. You can make this with orange juice rather than boiling water so it’s suitable even for very young children, and works well even for schools struggling for kitchen space and equipment
  • Apricot and chocolate biscuits – not all biccies have to lack in nutrition! Apricots, cocoa and treacle are all a source of iron, a nutrient that far too many children don’t get enough of. The added oats are great for an energy boost.

Eileen’s one of our regional Let’s Get Cooking managers for the North West. Follow her on Twitter, or email Eileen.