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

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.