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

School food in debate: #uksbmchat

??????????????????????????????????????????????????This weekend, we were invited to host the regular Sunday night Twitter chat for school business managers, at #uksbmchat.

The focus was all things school food, catering questions and free school meals for infants. After a busy week of announcements, there were lots of great questions and much to talk about!

Check out UKSBMChat‘s Storify of the chat here:

[View the story “School Catering Funding & FSMs – led by the Child Food Trust, 08/12/13” on Storify]

Don’t forget, if you’ve got school food questions or would like to talk in more detail, you can always tweet the Trust @childfoodtrust or drop me a tweet @cft_jeremy.

Jeremy Boardman heads up our schools support services. Email Jeremy.

Why don’t more schools use pre-ordering?

Jayne_GREATOREXIf 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.

Stories to make your sweet tooth ache


After a long weekend which for so many kids (and adults, too!) will have been chock-full of sugar in the form of chocolate eggs, this should be a good time to get a few facts straight about the sweet stuff in children’s diets.

After all, if you’re a parent and you’ve been reading about sugar in school puddings over the Bank Holiday, you might be feeling seriously confused.

First, a few basics about sugar. The sugars that occur naturally in milk and fresh fruit are one kind of sugar (‘intrinsic’, if you want to get technical). The stuff you find in cooked and dried fruit, fruit juice and in cakes, biscuits, sweets, squash and soft drinks, is another kind (‘non-milk extrinsic, or NMES for short). This form is often also called ‘added’ sugar.

The Department of Health recommends that we don’t have too much added sugar. Of all of the energy we get from our food and drink (calories, to put it another way), it recommends no more than 11% of that energy should come from the added stuff.

In primary school, a child’s lunch should contain around 530 calories. Apply the 11% rule, and that means the average school lunch shouldn’t contain more than 15.5g of added (NMES) sugar (if you want to think about the whole day, the average child at primary school needs around 1767 calories; the 11% rule means no more than 52g of added sugar in a day).

That means schools can’t put any cake on the menu with more than 15.5g of sugar in, right? Wrong. National nutritional standards for schools allow cooks to be flexible in designing their menus, and to help children learn about the range of foods which make for a balanced diet. They do this by measuring the average lunch in a school’s menu cycle (which is normally 3-4 weeks long). So, a school can offer a cake or pud which is higher in added sugar on one day, but for their average meal to meet the nutritional standards, other days will have to be much lower in sugar – so it all balances out. Put another way, your child’s school won’t be meeting the national standards if it’s serving up cake with lots of added sugar every day of the week.

Of course, the standards also help keep sugar down by banning confectionary, promoting healthier drinks, and helping make sure that portion sizes are sensible. We advise schools to get different pud options on the menu and to sweeten puddings with fruit wherever they can – as this helps pupils towards their five-a-day fruit and veg target at the same time. And the standards on sugar have worked – the amount of sugar kids are eating in school meals has fallen significantly since the standards came into force (by more than a third in secondary schools).

It’s completely possible to make delicious puds for kids which give them less than 15.5g of added sugar – take a look at our recipes for schools here. Try them at home* if the Easter bunny’s left you feeling sweet enough for now…

Just don’t forget to make the quantities smaller – these recipes are designed for school cooks, so they make enough for lots of children!

Claire’s one of our nutritionists. Email Claire.

Time for lunch month!

How much time did you spend eating lunch today?

Did you wolf down a sandwich at your desk while still reading your emails, or on the run between jobs? Did you eat in the car on the way back from a meeting? Or did you get lucky, and manage at least 30 minutes break away from work?

There’s no doubt that as a nation, we’ve become pretty poor at making sure we make time for lunch – at least during the working day.

We know it’s bad for us – it doesn’t take scientific studies (even though there are many) to tell you that you’re more effective after having even a short break from work, and after having something decent to eat.

It’s exactly the same for children at school. Research shows that when they can eat a decent lunch in a decent environment, they perform better in class in the afternoon. It’s also good for their health: they tell us that having enough time and space to eat during their day at school is actually more important to them than what they eat at lunchtime. So if we can give them that time and space, they’re more likely to try a healthy lunch in the school dining room. Put another way, if pupils don’t think they’ve got enough time to do all the things they need to at lunchtime – eat , relax, let off some steam and socialise – guess what’s the first thing to slip off their priority list?

That’s why we’ve declared November Time for Lunch Month on our blog. We’ll be posting about our tips for schools on how to make sure they’re giving children enough time to get a decent lunch inside them without having to rush, as well as to take part in football club, drama rehearsals, their turn on prefect duty or whatever else they’re into at lunchtime.

We’ll also be sharing our findings from a survey of schools on this issue, and telling you what you can do to support time for lunch at your child’s school.

To kick things off, we’d love to hear what you think in our quick Time for Lunch Month survey.

Jayne’s one of our children’s food advisors. Email Jayne.