Contract renewal: make sure you’re smiling by the end of it

We’ve had a flurry of you getting in touch with us recently about where to start on renewing your school’s food contract. From some of your emails, it seems like for some of you, the prospect is about as appealing as a root canal.

B??????????????????????????????????????????????????ut whether you’re in a local-authority-wide contract serving lots and lots of schools, or your own individual contract with a private caterer, don’t forget: this your chance to think big and go shopping. You might be really happy with your service (in which case, great), but it’s always worth sitting down with a blank piece of paper and reminding yourself of what you want your school food service to deliver.

That’s not just the practical stuff like how many children need to be served, what sorts of menus you want to offer and any benchmarks you want to focus on, but also where food fits in with life at your school. How do you want your pupils to think about food? Do you have a sense of their priorities for a good lunchtime? What else is important for eating well at your school, over and above good food? What do you want to do differently? What should stay the same? Is there anything new you want to try?

Put the time in now to create a really clear brief for your service and you’ll thank yourself later. It’s so easy to get hung up on things that haven’t worked this time. And they’re definitely important: a great starting point is knowing what you definitely don’t want in your new contract. But don’t forget to wave the magic wand and get creative, too: design the service you’d want if there were no barriers. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

It might feel like it’s going to be a painful process – but we can make sure that you don’t feel a thing.

Get in touch for help.

Jeremy leads our team of experts who support schools with all aspects of catering.

Exercise and healthy eating in schools – is it as simple as ‘energy in = energy out’?


 Ali OliverAfter last week’s news around the value of exercise versus nutrition for maintaining a healthy weight, our Chief Executive Officer Linda Cregan joins forces with Youth Sports Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver to blog about getting the balance right in school….

Obesity is a worldwide pandemic and as we saw again this week, consistently makes headlines as the biggest threat to children’s long term health. However, it is a common misconception that this is due to people eating more calories. Research in fact suggests that energy intake has declined since the 1970s, with fat content reducing in our food since the 1980s. Yet around a third of children are overweight or obese as they leave primary school. So what’s behind the headlines?

Read their full post on the School Improvement Network.

Why this summer doesn’t have to be cruel…

Let's Get Cooking's Minty Ice LolliesSummer term: the home stretch of the school year. While exam pressure hits melting point for pupils and teachers, school kitchen teams have their own tests to deal with during the next 12 weeks or so.

Summer brings unique challenges for school kitchens: better weather can often mean more children moving to packed lunches so they can sit outside and eat fast (the better to get back to hurtling around the playground), exam timetables and the anguish of last-minute cramming can mean older pupils aren’t in school over lunchtime or, when they are, they’re putting eating at the bottom of their to-do list.

So your lunchtime numbers can change. How much will free school lunches for under-sevens affect the summer season trends we’ve seen for so many years? It’ll be interesting to see. Jayne_GREATOREX

But if you’re catering for older children, how do you keep them coming to the canteen as the weather hots up? Here are my top tips:

  • Help them get outside. If you’ve got the opportunity to create an external dining area, go for it. If you’ve already got al fresco facilities, do as much as you can with them
  • Go with the children’s flow: we all gravitate towards cold, lighter food when the weather’s warm, so make the most of these options – make lots of noise about things like sandwiches, salads and pasta pots
  • Let them grab and go: meal deals which mimic the packed lunch style can often work really well over the summer. Push a summer special offer of a sandwich, drink, fruit and cake
  • Use summer events to market your food: your school’s sports day, prom or end of term concert can work just as brilliantly as linking in with Wimbledon or the end of the season for your local football team
  • Go to town on reminding pupils that when they eat better, they do better – when they’re fuelled up with healthy food, they’ll feel better able to concentrate in revision sessions and exams
  • Market your brain-boosting options as great for exam-sitters: fish dishes, bean salads and oaty flapjacks to keep them going through a long paper
  • If you offer a breakfast service, promote your early starter options to pupils who’ll be sitting exams. Tucking into scrambled eggs or beans and toast will set them up to do their best.

Don’t forget, at the moment there’s loads of support on offer with marketing school food – all funded by government. Whether you’re an infant school offering free meals to all pupils or a junior or secondary school looking for extra support to get more children opting for your canteen, we can help. Check out our free school meals for infants helpdesk and the support on offer for junior and secondary schools.

Jayne’s one of our school food specialists. Email Jayne

Over to you…

Linda   From my own days in school catering, I know how relentlessly busy and demanding the days are – and about the high standard school kitchen teams and midday supervisors expect of themselves to deliver great lunchtimes for children, day after day after day. I know – first hand – how people working in school food can sometimes feel like the ‘poor relation’ of the catering industry; if I had a pound for every time I’ve heard someone describe their job in school food in almost apologetic terms over the years, I wouldn’t be short of a bob or two.

But step by step, this is changing – thank goodness. I’ve been privileged to sit on a School Food Plan group, headed by LACA , that’s working with staff from all over the school food sector as well as the industry sector skills council, People 1st, to draft the country’s first set of professional standards for the school food workforce. Employers are designing them with the group, agreeing on the skills, knowledge and behaviours that mark the best industry standard of performance for different roles in school food.

Professional standards exist for all sorts of professions but until now, not for school food. And it’s a big deal: in-house training, apprenticeships and qualifications for school kitchen roles will all support staff to meet those professional standards, individuals can use the standards to see how they’re doing against what they know is possible for their role, and most importantly the standards will be a wonderful way of showing off the massive talent which exists in school kitchens – the front line of helping children develop healthy habits for the future.

So the start of this summer term marks a milestone. We now want to know what you think of the draft professional standards employers have shaped up. What do you think of the content? How would you use the standards in your role, in your kitchen or catering operation? If you work in school food, don’t miss out on this chance to make these standards work for you and your colleagues.

One of the most important recommendations of the School Food Plan was about supporting the school food workforce. If we’re going to get lots more children choosing to use their school’s canteen, we have to look after the teams who’ll be making that happen. Because great school lunchtimes are only created when you’ve got a team of people with the skills, facilities and support they need to do their jobs well. Here’s to the next step on the road.

Linda’s our CEO. Follow Linda on Twitter

Councils champion school meals experience

Today we’re celebrating thirteen councils joining us on a mission to get more children eating school mealsKitchen1

Following the launch of the School Food Plan in 2013, we’re working with the local authorities* across the South West, South East and East Midlands to help schools encourage more pupils to opt for lunches in the canteen.

The scheme, which sits alongside the Government’s funding of free school meals for infants, is designed to help junior and secondary schools get more children choosing the school dining room at lunchtime.

Commissioned by the Department for Education, we’re giving specialist training to local authority and academy trust teams so they can help schools get more children opting for school meals, focusing on the small things which can make a big difference. We’re also offering these schools ready-made marketing programmes to get pupils excited about school meals, along with site visits and one-to-one support on operational issues.

Support is available in other regions from the Food For Life Partnership – led by the Soil Association – and the Design and Technology Association. As Ofsted announces that healthy eating will be part of school inspections from September 2015, all three organisations are urging schools not to miss out on a share of more than one million pounds worth of training, support and materials.

Linda Linda Cregan, our Chief Executive Officer, says: “Rightly, there’s been a heavy focus on supporting infant schools to make sure they were ready to deliver free school meals for all their pupils, but if we want that legacy to last throughout children’s school years, we have to make sure help gets to other schools, too. And with Ofsted’s inspection framework including such an emphasis on food from September this year, there’s an even bigger incentive for schools to get this right. That’s why we’re so delighted to welcome these local authorities on board and why we’re keen to talk to more local authorities and schools in these regions to make sure they’re getting a share of this invaluable support.”

Libby Grundy from the Food For Life Partnership said: “Improving school meals has been put on the plate of head teachers, caterers and school business managers in recent years and this support package is an ideal way they can access expert support. Improving school meals will in turn lead to improvements in attainment and behaviour which is great news for any school. I am delighted that Ofsted inspections will now include school food; schools need not be daunted by this and if staff at junior or secondary schools need a little extra support then the packages on offer across England can make all the difference, but time is of the essence so please register now.”

Louise Davies from the Design and Techology Association said: “Our programmes provide tailor made support for schools so that they are totally supported in making changes to school meals and learning about food choices. Every headteacher, governing body and food teacher needs to grab this opportunity for fully funded and proven solutions immediately.”

*We’re working with with Swindon, Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, West Berkshire, Bracknell Forest, Reading, Wokingham, Windsor and Maidenhead and Portsmouth local authorities in our Make School Meals Count project.

For more information on the support available across the country under the scheme, click here.

Measuring up – in all the right places

??????????????????????????????????????????????????  They say what gets measured gets done. A pretty depressing view of the world, but often an accurate one. And in the world of school food, it’s fair to say it’s been a mixed bag when it comes to measuring, over the decades. That’s why Ofsted’s move to make food a real focus in the new Common Inspection Framework is such a very, very welcome one.

It wasn’t so long ago that the requirement of schools was little more than a self-assessment tick box to say they were meeting national school food standards. As of September this year, it’s a whole new ballgame. As part of their new framework for inspection, HMIs will consider how schools are helping children eat well. They’ll visit the canteen to see the atmosphere and culture in the dining room and how this affects pupils’ behaviour. They plan to talk to school leaders about how they help children develop their knowledge of good diet – essentially, how they’re putting the building blocks in place to give children a great start with food.

And if the aim of inspection is to make sure our schools are doing the best job for our children; that every child is getting the school experience they deserve, then we really can’t leave out lunchtime. Because – as our research has shown – how children feel about lunchtime often defines how they feel about their entire time at school.

The bit of the day when they get to refuel and relax is often far more memorable to a pupil than double maths. The trick is to make it memorable for all the right reasons, and that it’s delivering all the right things to make sure they’ve got the energy and concentration they need for double maths. With so many competing demands on your time and budget, it’s easy to put school food to the back of the queue. But time into school food equals reward out for children’s behaviour and attainment. It isn’t time wasted to spend a bit of time each month working on making lunchtimes great; by making lunchtimes great you’re helping create the conditions for kids to thrive in class. Chat to schools putting in effort and energy to make lunchtime an important part of the school day, and to make school cooks key people in the school community, and you’ll get an idea of how good food culture can make a school feel whole. And that’s before you get to the fact that being able to eat well is a life skill that we need to teach our kids: fail, and we’re consigning another generation to health conditions linked with obesity and malnutrition.

Most of the schools I talk to will have plenty of great things to tell and show their inspection team when it comes to looking at their approach to food and lunchtimes. Will you? Now’s the time to get ready for this change, and there’s lots of help out there if you need it.

Let’s make good school food something we’re proud to show off in our schools, not something that’s a chore to be measured on.

Jeremy leads our school support team. Whatever your issue, they’re here to help with all aspects of improving school food. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an infant, junior, secondary, special school or academy: if you’re struggling, we can help. Here are just a few of the ways we can support you: 

And for the main course…

Let's Get Cooking chicken and butternut sage risotto     After years of campaigning by our Let’s Get Cooking programme, last week saw a big milestone for cooking in secondary schools – with the publication of the final content for a new GCSE in food.

It means that from next year, young people will now have the chance to do much more practical cooking as part of their studies, learning about lots of different cooking processes in much more detail and delving into what it means to cook and eat healthily.

We’ve been calling for more practical cooking in the curriculum for a long time, and the new GCSE builds on the work of the School Food Plan to make sure all children are getting the chance to cook at school.

Our Chief Executive Officer, Linda Cregan, says: “Learning to cook is a life skill that no child should leave school without, and this GCSE is an opportunity for students wanting to roll up their sleeves, get their aprons on and really explore lots of different cooking techniques and processes. With a good emphasis on practical work, this a step on the journey to creating a nation of more confident cooks and, crucially, a nation better able to eat well.”

Read more on what we think about cooking lessons at school: