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:

Making Universal Infant Free School Meals just that

Caroline Morgan, chief executive of Dorset-based Local Food Links, gives us her top tips for catering for children with special diets.

The Universal Infantscaled_infant-boy-lunch_190x0 Free School Meals programme is by its very definition for every child in state funded schools in reception, years One and Two. Yet there’s one particular challenge which is not only causing schools, caterers and local authorities a headache, but risking some children not getting the free meals they’re entitled to. And that challenge is provision for children with food allergies or who need special diets such as gluten free food. I know that with lots of forward planning and partnership working with suppliers, schools, parents and pupils, it’s still possible to deliver free school meals for all children.

Local Food Links Ltd are currently preparing and transporting over 3,000 school meals from 4 hub kitchens to 31 primary and middle schools. Here are our top tips for catering for children with special diets.

Cook from scratch: At Local Food Links we’ve devised a ‘half-termly menu’ which lasts six or seven weeks. All the meals are prepared from scratch, sourcing seasonal, high quality food from local suppliers. If you prepare all your meals from scratch you’ve got more control over the nutritional quality and what’s in each dish.

Speak to your suppliers: Make sure the information you hold on each ingredient is up-to-date. In preparation for the EU Allergen Regulations, Gillian Reynolds, my Catering Manager, was able to set up a spreadsheet listing all the ingredients in each dish. Gillian called every supplier to get the allergen information for every ingredient. We recorded allergen information, noting if the 14 allergens were present.

Communication is key: We prefer to speak to parents directly about their children’s dietary requirements. This is recorded on a special dietary requirements form, which has the name and allergy information of the child, and the contact details of the parent. Each hub kitchen and school has an up-to-date list of children with special dietary requirements. The information is shared with the office staff, the catering staff, the cooks serving the meals, and the midday supervisors. This ensures that everyone is fully aware of all aspects.

We’ve devised an online ordering system which is accessed by parents and school staff. Parents can order their child’s meals weekly, or for a whole half term. Ordering in advance helps make sure that each child has their preferred meal. The parents can check the ingredients of each dish by hovering over the name of each menu item, and then make an appropriate choice for their child’s dietary requirements.

Staff training is crucial: During the first week of December 2014, all members of staff received an internal training session on the forthcoming EU Allergen Regulations. The training made sure all staff were aware of the legal requirements, where to access up-to-date information and how to convey this to other members of staff within the school, parents and children. Each member of staff has completed a Food Standards Agency online training course on allergens, and each hub kitchen and school have received and are displaying Food Standards Agency posters. Training was also provided free of charge to school lunchtime staff.

Policies and procedures: Local Food Links provide a ‘transported school meal service’, parents order the meals in advance and every school receives a bespoke set of lunches. We plan for all eventualities. If the food order changes because of the weather, or if there’s a different cook or midday supervisor, there’s a checklist which anyone can follow.
Shared responsibility: Catering for children with special dietary requirements is a shared responsibility, between the caterer, the school and the parent. Some conditions can be life threatening. It’s so important that everyone involved is aware of their responsibility and plays their part in order to keep the child safe.

I hope these tips will help you deliver healthy, tasty meals to all children choosing school meals.

Caroline Morgan, chief executive of Dorset-based Local Food Links

Catering for allergies and special diets in your school
Caroline’s approach shows us how it’s possible to cater for allergies and special diets as part of your school meals service. We recommended that schools develop a policy and procedure to make sure that a request for a special diet is handled in an efficient and appropriate way. It’s good practice for these requirements to be written into any contracts that are developed with caterers. Catering providers and local authorities may already have policies and procedures in place.

For more information on UIFSM, catering for pupils with food allergies and other special dietary requirements visit:

Nicer than eating off the table

Children’s Food Trust Head of Schools Jeremy Boardman reflects on progress one month after the national launch of universal infant free school meals. 

It’s been called a golden age for school food. Cooking is back on the curriculum and new, easier-to-use school food standards come into force in January. But perhaps the most impressive step has been that around 16,000 schools have tackled a huge range of challenges in a short time to be able to provide universal infant free school meals this term.

So if you think August was quiet, then spare a thought for those thousands of schools which had this demanding new deadline looming. Since then, we’ve seen all kinds of stories in the press about how successful or otherwise the launch has been. Yes, there have been bumps in the road, but what we’re seeing is an overwhelming enthusiasm and determination from schools to make this work – and from what we’re hearing, demand for these meals is soaring.

We work in partnership with LACA (Lead Association for Catering in Education) to provide the national free Advice Service, set up especially to help schools, caterers and local authorities achieve this leap in demand. So we’ve had a privileged view of just how challenging it has been for some schools and of the hard work that continues behind the scenes to make sure all infants get these good meals.

At Haddenham St Mary’s School in Buckinghamshire, where they previously provided no school meals, we helped them be ready on day one to feed 100 infants.  The school is having a completely new kitchen enabling them to prepare fresh, healthy meals everyday for every child in reception, year 1 and year 2. And until that’s ready, a small, local food provider within the village is supplying home cooked meals using the produce that the children have grown from the garden.

Demand has doubled for infants’ school meals at St Peter and St Paul’s Catholic Primary School in Kent, with numbers jumping from around 30 to more than 60 every day. And they’re actually eating what’s on their plates. In fact, it’s the simplest ideas that can make the most difference. Switching from using flight trays to proper plates has made a huge difference, with one child reported to have said “it’s much nicer than eating off the table!”

Fairfield Primary School, Cumbria has gone from an all packed lunches situation to now providing 140 infants with free, tasty and nutritious lunches every day thanks to an external provider. In fact, it’s working so well, they’re extending the offer of a hot school meal to 380 pupils at the school.

But it’s not all glamorous work. Our advisors helped this school plan for the equipment needed, storage facilities, energy supply and internet cabling work, pointed the school in the direction of good suppliers and of course the extra funding.

Three West Berkshire schools used special PKL KitchenPods to meet demand. Westwood Farm Infant School, Cold Ash St Mark’s CE Primary School and Hungerford Primary School each had a different problem. But using the pods in different ways meant they were ready to provide lunch onsite at the start of the new term.

Other schools have brought in new hot food counters, new tables and started using online ordering to help ease the changes.

All this is great news for children. And the work continues. Our free Advice Service remains open throughout the school year ahead and, as term one of this new chapter approaches half way, we’re thrilled that we continue to see more brilliant examples of how schools are providing all infants with free nutritious meals.

The Advice Service is available at  or Freephone 0800 680 0080.

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