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:

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: http://www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/schoolfoodplan/uifsm/special-diets

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 www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/schoolfoodplan  or Freephone 0800 680 0080.