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.


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.

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….

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.

When the chips are down…

Tricia web   The funny thing about teenagers’ down time on a school day is that it’s anything but. They tell us their journeys to and from school, their breaks, their lunchtimes are taken up with their priorities: to relax, let off some steam, socialise and, yes, to eat. If they don’t think they’ve got enough time to do all of these things during their downtime, guess what’s often the first thing to slip off their priority list?

Maybe that’s why young people are so drawn to food on the run. The takeaway concept – something they can eat quickly, without cutlery, often without having to sit down (at least for long) works for their priorities.

The fly in the ointment (or the fat fryer, in this case) is that many of the takeaway options available to kids outside of school aren’t doing their health any favours. Salford City Council’s looking at a unique approach to tackling this, seeking views on plans to ban future takeaways near schools from serving any hot food until after 5pm.

We’ve always supported councils which are really getting hold of this issue – after all, our own research several years ago showed there was an average of 23 junk food outlets for every secondary school in England. Who knows what that figure would be now? Over the years, as schools have worked to improve the food they serve, many local authorities have begun using planning powers to prevent new takeaways from opening right outside the school gates. Many schools have brought in ‘stay on site’ policies for lunchtimes, preventing pupils from heading out to fill up on sweets, deep-fried fixes and sugary drinks which do nothing for their ability to concentrate in class. Crucially, rather than work against teens’ love of the takeaway, some schools have got really clever about recreating that quick-fix, food-on-the-go concept in their canteens in a much healthier way – mirroring those high street grab and go options that really appeal to young people, without the heavy doses of saturated fat, sugar and salt.

But one of the best ingredients I’ve seen over the years is where schools work with local businesses, including takeaways and supermarkets, to agree how and when they’ll sell food to pupils. There have been some fantastic examples of schools talking to these nearby businesses and coming to an agreement, perhaps making a deal not to serve pupils at all during certain hours of the day. These schools consult on their plans with parents and pupils and bring everyone along with them.

Noone disagrees that we want children to eat well, and any teacher will tell you that kids perform so much better in school when they’re not fuelled up by empty calories (research backs this up too). If we want them to grow up to be healthier than our generation, the whole community has to work together to help them make better choices about what to eat. It’s a big part of the recipe.

Dr Tricia Mucavele heads up our nutrition team. Get in touch for help with using stay on site policies at your school, or if you’d like help from our experts on working with your community on children’s nutrition issues.  

Get what you want….what you really, really want from your school food

??????????????????????????????????????????????????  This week, I’m attending a fantastic workshop to launch a Food Partnership for Lambeth conference called ‘Who Feeds Lambeth?’

In this borough – the fifth most deprived in London, where around a third of children live in poverty and where children have higher than average levels of obesity – they’ve been doing lots of work on using good food in schools to support children’s health, as well as health for the wider community.

There’s a dearth of primary school places here (as there is across inner London), so schools and the council are having to do lots of thinking and planning about how they’ll meet demand in future. It also means that when it’s time to renew their school food contract, it’ll be a huge opportunity.

Reviewing your school food contract – whether it’s a local-authority-wide contract serving lots and lots of schools, or your own individual contract with a private caterer – is your chance to think big and go shopping. It’s your blank piece of paper to sketch out what you want your school food service to deliver – not just the practical elements (though they’re important), but also how you’ll want it to fit with the ethos of your school, the environment in which you want your students to eat and how your work on good food can help the wider community too – you might want to open your kitchens for community training or cooking clubs, or champion the example of good school food to promote better choices by the whole family. What do you want to do differently? What should stay the same? Is there anything new you want to try?

It’s often said of project management that if you invest the time to come up with a really clear brief, you’ll reap the rewards in the delivery. That’s why reviewing your catering service and coming up with a strong specification is so important. It’s easy to get hung up on things that you’ve always done (or always moaned about). But get talking to parents and children; give yourself some head-space to get creative; try to erase what you already know and design the service you’d want if you could wave a magic wand. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Looking forward to hearing views from lots of Lambeth headteachers on Wednesday!

Read more in our guide to reviewing your catering service. Get tips on running a tender using our free quick guide to retendering your catering service or talk to our experts for more detailed advice. We’re here to help.

Jeremy leads our team of experts who support schools with all aspects of catering. Email Jeremy.