If ever there was a case for more primary schools to introduce simple pre-ordering systems for school meals, the story of Alison Waldcock, a school cook in Cambridge, has to be it.
According to media reports this week, Alison lost her job after accidentally serving gammon to a Muslim pupil.
Whilst the details of her case with her employer haven’t been made public, the mix-up is nevertheless a good reminder of why schools need strong systems in place for managing children’s special diets.
Whether they’re for religious, cultural or health reasons, special dietary needs have to be met very carefully. We encourage families to talk their child’s school to give clear information if their child follows a special diet, while schools are urged to do everything they can to make sure all children are catered for – so they feel included at lunchtimes.
In the case of children with allergies or intolerances, parents should provide the school with the advice they’ve been given by a dietitian or doctor about the foods their child should avoid, and any precautions the kitchen team needs to take. All staff need to know if a child has a specific dietary requirement to keep them safe, with clear information in the kitchen for them to follow.
But a fantastic way for cooks to get around the issue of identifying children who follow a special diet at primary school is to have a pre-ordering system. I’ve written about a really low-tech, low-cost way to introduce this before – not only does it cut queues in the dining room and cut down on waste, it also means your kitchen team knows what every child is going to eat; they will have decided on their order with their parents in advance.
If your school uses an online ordering system for parents, that’s another way to help you make sure children with special diets are getting the right meals – the order flashes up on the till as you serve.
Simple solutions which can make such a difference.
Jayne’s one of our Children’s Food Advisors, helping schools tackle school meal issues and to keep catering services going. Email Jayne.