What makes a dinner winner?

I’ve been on the panel of judges for the TES Schools Awards Healthy Eating prize for the last two years in a row. It’s always a pleasure. There’s nothing like hearing from schools that have been on a real journey to use their food for more than just feeding hungry tummies at lunchtime!  This year’s winner was St.Joseph’s Specialist School and College in Cranleigh.

So what makes them a winner? Here are my top picks:

  • They’re really tuned in to the needs of their students. As a special needs school, they have to be more adaptable than most because there’s not really a ‘one meal fits all’ solution for their students. They have to offer a range of alternatives to suit various preferences and needs, and watch closely for changes. But even if you don’t have such varied dietary requirements to consider, the key is asking children what they like, what they don’t like, and then acting on their feedback as best as possible – and that goes for what’s on the menu and the atmosphere in the dining room.
  • St. Joseph’s are fortunate enough to have a really good relationship with a local small-holding, so pupils have regular trips there to help out on the farm, have a go at food growing and learn about where food comes from. This is a great approach and although most schools aren’t lucky enough to have a farm on the doorstep, you can get growing with as little as a few tubs for strawberries, tomatoes, salads or herbs.
  • Nothing prepares children better for independent life than learning basic cooking skills. St. Joseph’s have introduced ‘Pass it on’ cooking sessions with great success. There are lots of different ways you can get children of all ages and abilities cooking – one of the easiest is to join the nation’s biggest network of after-school cooking clubs, Let’s Get Cooking.

Keeping your foot on the gas with improving school food is still viewed by some schools as a ‘nice-to-have’: one of those things you’ll get to when everything else on your list is finished, but not that important in the grand scheme of things. But when you get food right, other things fall into place. That’s why the recognition gained from initiatives like the TES Schools Awards is so important – other schools can see how it’s done, and what it can do for you. So, another reason I accepted TES’s invitation again this year is because for schools doing food well, something has clicked – they’ve seen the bigger picture, and what children eat is right in the middle of it.  To me, that’s so exciting.

Linda Cregan is our Executive Director of Delivery and her background is in school catering management. With her team, Linda helps schools to tackle all sorts of issues and concerns about food, at whatever stage they’re at on their journey. Email Linda.

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