Exercise and healthy eating in schools – is it as simple as ‘energy in = energy out’?


 Ali OliverAfter last week’s news around the value of exercise versus nutrition for maintaining a healthy weight, our Chief Executive Officer Linda Cregan joins forces with Youth Sports Trust Chief Executive Ali Oliver to blog about getting the balance right in school….

Obesity is a worldwide pandemic and as we saw again this week, consistently makes headlines as the biggest threat to children’s long term health. However, it is a common misconception that this is due to people eating more calories. Research in fact suggests that energy intake has declined since the 1970s, with fat content reducing in our food since the 1980s. Yet around a third of children are overweight or obese as they leave primary school. So what’s behind the headlines?

Read their full post on the School Improvement Network.


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

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: 

Five school food blogs we all need to remember from 2013

??????????????????????????????????????????????????The TV’s saturated with ‘review of the year’ shows, lists of ‘2013’s most embarrassing celebrity moments’ and special editions of every gameshow going right now. So I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon, and share my picks of the school food blogs I’ve loved this year:

  • This one from school food writer Siobhan O’Neill pulls out some wonderful themes about school meals in Japan – from which we could all learn a lot!
  • In February, our former Chief Executive, Judy Hargadon, wasn’t impressed with some school meals comments by Iceland boss, Malcolm Walker
  • We can’t let 2013 go by without mentioning the School Food Plan. Millions of words have been written about the themes of the plan, but this blog for Mumsnet by the plan’s co-author, John Vincent, summed things up beautifully
  • The announcement that all children in Reception and years 1 and 2 at school will get free school meals from September 2014 had steam coming off the keyboards of commentators on the left, right and centre – this debate on the Guardian’s blog is a great read
  • And this piece from John McDermott on the FT blog was another good one. We’re still waiting for the government’s proposals on how free school meals will work with Universal Credit, but a free lunch at school for all children living in poverty should be the starting point.

What were your favourite school foodie blogs of 2013? Drop your links below!

Jeremy Boardman heads up our schools team. Email Jeremy.

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 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.