Why kitchens have been such an important part of the school food jigsaw in Sheffield

Leah Barratt

It was time for a change. A big change to how we were providing a food service to our children and we just had to do something about it. But how? We were coming up to a re-tender of our school catering contract and still had more than 30 schools with no kitchens on site, just a servery where food was brought in. How can you hope to increase take up from a steady but unimpressive 35% in the primary sector? And how can you hope to excite and entice anyone to eat if the food arrives in dull, orange boxes?

In 1994, I was involved with the closure of 25 kitchens which was a result of major budget cuts. But in 2011, we planned to share our resources with colleagues who were working on the Primary Capital and Primary Expansion Programmes. We chipped in funds from our successful bid for to the Targeted Capital for Kitchens and Dining Rooms fund, contributed to two individual school schemes and got six kitchens in place during the month of August – the same month that our new catering partner, Taylor Shaw, started on the new contract. They responded brilliantly by recruiting cooks, organising menus and training teams for a new start to the academic year.

But we couldn’t stop there. Fortunately we had some further investment due to careful spending on the run up to the new contract. Taylor Shaw were asked to take over the next phasing of the project. They could work much more closely with the specialist kitchen designers, building in how Taylor Shaw could deliver a service from those kitchens by working directly with schools in the process. Between October 2011 and March 2012, a further seven kitchens were put in place – and meal numbers started to rise. So we began working on the second phase, having learnt some valuable lessons.

The real success of meal numbers going up was to have a development plan discussed, planned and agreed with the school – a whole school approach to having a new kitchen. This idea isn’t new and we’d been employing it with schools for a long time, but with the backing of funding for a new kitchen we could really drive home the message that things needed to be approached differently.

We’ve seen the greatest rise in take up where a good all-round plan was in place. And a further eight kitchens were finished in April 2012. One school has seen their daily meal numbers go up by 93%, in comparison with the previous year. The schools involved now have the flexibility to plan their menus with Taylor Shaw, knowing they can have more scope to celebrate with food, use food in the curriculum and to engage parents, but mainly to feed their children well and support their overall development, growth and performance.

Leah Barratt is Service Manager for Sheffield City Council‘s School Food Service, and is guest blogging for us as part of our State of the Nation’s School Kitchens campaign. Read more blogs about school kitchens.

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