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: 

A watershed moment for school food?

Rob Rees, Children's Food Trust ChairmanBeing completely honest, there are a lot of people who’ve asked me over the last year whether the government’s school food review would come up with anything ‘new’. Was there a silver bullet that no one had ever thought of? Were there great ideas which hadn’t been tried? Was a ‘eureka!’ moment likely?

And while many of the themes and ideas will be familiar to everyone involved with school food, what is new is that this is a shot in the arm for the message that people like us champion every single day:  great food in schools is important. Eight years on from Jamie’s School Dinners, maybe our country was in need of a prod to remember what great school food can do for children, and what has to be done to help schools produce it.

Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, with the support of an expert panel, have done a great job of underlining the things that work, where the effort needs to be focused – and by whom. Look back to Jamie’s original 2005 Feed Me Better manifesto and you’ll find some similar themes: the need to keep being creative with food to get more kids eating school food; the need to better train and support staff; the need for a long-term national commitment and funding.  Read the 2005 School Meals Review Panel report and appendices – commissioned by the then government to set out the actions needed after Jamie’s campaign – and you’ll find recommendations around increasing take up, teaching children practical cooking, improving the quality of food, the need for good sources of information on how to do school food well and supporting staff with training and funding. Look at the things that organisations like the Children’s Food Campaign, Chefs Adopt a School, Food for Life Partnership, LACA, School Food Matters, the Children’s Food Trust and many others have been working on since then and you’ll be able to match many points. But perhaps others who are more removed from the day-to-day realities of school meals had assumed that just because we know what works, the job was done. Far from it. That’s why this review was important.

We always knew that government, caterers and schools would have to be in this for the long-haul. Whole-scale change takes time. Will we still be talking about Henry and John’s recommendations in another eight years?  I sincerely hope so. I hope that in eight years time, we’ll be talking about how this latest national school food plan galvanised government – and politicians of all parties – to keep up a sustained commitment to good food in our schools. I hope we’ll be talking about how more head teachers across the country were inspired to take a lead on food in their school – not settling for something that’s less than their pupils deserve because it feels too hard a problem to tackle: there is lots of help out here for you. I hope that strong support nationally and locally – together with the funding announced today to help – will have meant that the great lunchtime experience already being delivered to many children becomes a great experience delivered to them all.

To all the nay-sayers who will question the value of this review: anything which reminds us all of why we need to get food right in our schools is ok by me. Now let’s all get on with the job.

What is it about headteachers who get stuck in on school food?

Do they all share certain character traits? Are they ‘foodies’ at home? Do they simply have more time on their hands than other heads?


Nope, not necessarily, and definitely not. But all of the heads I’ve met who are doing a sterling job on food do share one thing in common: they want to get what they’re paying for. More precisely, they want the parents at their school – and, so, the kids – to get what they’re paying for: great food and a great experience…..

Read more of Jeremy’s blog on the School Food Plan Tumblr, under Tuesday 9th July 2013….

Why I’m an e-learning convert

I guess when you’ve trained and worked as a teacher, you never stop being interested in how we learn. Whether you learn by seeing, hearing or doing, what works for some of us definitely doesn’t work for others when it comes to understanding and knowing how to apply new information.

Jon Rayment

But one thing that most of us have in common when it comes to learning in our working lives is that we don’t have enough time for it. That’s why the opportunities offered by online and mobile technologies are so important. Sometimes, nothing compares with getting one-to-one tuition from a fantastic teacher. But when time and budget is short (or non-existent – the experience in so many workplaces in this financial climate), e-learning is a fantastic option.

The school food workforce is a great example – and by ‘workforce’, I mean everyone who has a role to play in making sure kids eat well at school: cooks and caterers, headteachers, business managers, lunchtime supervisors and governors. These are people who are so busy during term that finding time out to undertake training, let alone finding the budget to pay for staff cover and travel expenses, can feel like an impossible dream.

It’s where budget e-learning can make all the difference:

  • It saves you money
  • You can learn whenever and wherever you want, from the staff room to your sofa
  • You can break it into chunks – most courses allow you to complete a section then come back to do the next bit at a time which suits you
  • You can share useful information from the course with colleagues even more easily.

Children's Food Trust Learning Network

When I was a teacher, these options just weren’t there. For the many people I’ve met working in schools over the years, who’ve been looking for ways to learn that fit around their busy lives and dwindling budgets for staff development, the growth of e-learning might just make that impossible dream a reality.

Jon runs our new Children’s Food Trust Learning Network. Join him at next week’s LACA Conference at stand W19 to learn more and sign up.

How to eat…

Fiona Faulkner

I’ve talked at length about the kinds of foods I feel schools should offer – but what about how these foods are served? With the School Food Plan due to be published very soon, here’s my menu of the added extras which could make for the perfect school lunch experience….

First, I’d love more schools to take a continental approach and encourage our kids to enjoy mealtimes in themselves (in my utopic world a selection of kids would help prepare the school’s lunch, and everyone would take a full 90 minutes to be served, to eat, and then to rest and digest…) I know, I know… timetables are tight and the curriculum must be met. But we’re in my world now, so bear with me…

Next, I’d love us to see school dinners as an opportunity for broader, non-curriculum based learning. Perhaps incorporate a lunchtime debating club (each table could discuss a topic, with a chairperson assigned, and each diner encouraged to offer a considered viewpoint). Suddenly we’d be teaching valuable workplace skills – negotiation and problem-solving – not to mention social skills such as listening, and boosting confidence for each child who is speaking their opinion out loud. How about creating and teaching a school democracy where each table discusses a proposed new rule – with votes being cast on the way out (hey, if it’s good enough for Waitrose…)?

Geography could raise its head with culinary themed weeks… or languages where diners must speak only French (etc) at the table – with teachers / volunteers on hand to help things along.

How about inviting inspiring local peple to head over and offer a lunchtime career chat: “How I became an actor / how I set up my own business….” type of thing. The kids would (hopefully) learn and be inspired, and the school would gain valuable future contacts, immersing themselves into the local community (in other words, kill two birds with one stone-baked pizza). Not only that, but imagine the *sponsorship / time-bank potential for your next big event. I suspect a lot of locals would be honoured to be asked to do this kind of thing, such as my husband was when he recently did a ‘radio’ talk at our kids’ school.

I had a lovely chat with Henry Dimbleby last year where he talked at length about the different schools he and John Vincent had visited as part of their School Food Plan project.

One of the things I remember most is his description of a school that had adopted a ‘family dining’ approach to school dinners. Essentially each table represented a cross section of ages, with older kids grabbing big dishes to be brought to – and (crucially) served at – the table. In this way kids retain portion control (which I think is respectful, though obviously needs to be managed) as well as fostering a nurturing atmosphere; let’s say for example that a Year 7 kid is being bullied. They may well be more likely to talk about this with a Year 11 pupil as opposed to breaking the unwritten rule of actually telling a teacher. Not only that but I bet a Year 11 is as likely to spot the signs [as a teacher].

What I also love about this ‘family dining’ approach is that different roles and responsibilities can be designated: somebody to get the tray; somebody to set the table; somebody to serve; somebody to clear the plates etc.

I recently had a meeting at my own kids’ school, discussing its new community kitchen. Call me idealistic (which of course I am), but I suggested that the dining hall use real cutlery, decent table cloths, comfy chairs – anything to create a home-from-home atmosphere.

This article from The Sunday Times has some terrific examples of schools doing an amazing job at lunchtime. Still not convinced? Head to paragraph five where it talks about exam results and behaviour.

I’ve said it many times over and I’ll say it again: good eating habits have to be learned and therefore taught. And since many kids don’t have the opportunity to learn these behaviours at home, it’s more important than ever to ensure these are taught at school.

As ever, @ChildFoodTrust and I would love to hear your views!


* “Hi is that [CEO of Business] who came to our school last year? Would you mind sponsoring our [event]?”

Food writer and broadcaster Fiona Faulkner works with us on our Take Two campaign, to help parents and schools get kids eating more fruit and veg during the school day.