Providing catering services within the Education sector is a complex operation due to the diverse range of ages, students typically attend primary school from the age of 4-11, and secondary school from 11-16. The differences in age means that the nutritional requirements and portion sizes differ drastically from pupil to pupil.
Nutrition is important in children’s diets for several reasons; it helps the child to stay alert during class, fight off illnesses and grow into strong, healthy adults. Children get up to half of their food each day from school, therefore we have heightened sense of responsibility and trust in providing nutritional food as we have the ability to make a real difference.
The nutritional content of each meal is outlined by the School Food Standards, which provides a set of standard requirements which, all school caterers must adhere to. This includes serving at least three different fruits, and three different vegetables each week, no more than two portions a week of food which has been deep fried, battered or breadcrumb coated and one or more portions of vegetables every day.
The School Food Standards also set out portion sizes for each food group which is another important element that we must adhere to. For example, it outlines that 35-55g of rice in one portion for a primary school child (4-10 years old). While it is clearly important that the child receives all the essential nutrients, and that allergens are clearly labelled, it is also imperative that the correct portions are served. By adhering to these guidelines, we are able to feel confident that no child is left still hungry, or equally they are not overfed.
Food allergies are also extremely common in children, with the most typical including eggs, milk and peanuts. This can often be challenging to monitor across different suppliers and ingredients. In order to overcome this, Atalian Servest have invested in an innovative software solution. This has enabled us to provide each site with recipe cards detailing exact supplier and product codes of each ingredient with allergen analysis.
From a nutrition aspect, the software also allows us to benchmark nutritional targets, which means we can see how the figures change when ingredients are swapped, which is an important aspect as the menus change each term to reflect seasonal availability.
Ensuring all dishes adhere to the School Food Standards is mandatory, they are designed to make it easier for school cooks and caters to create imaginative, flexible and nutritious menus. Eating in school should be a pleasurable experience, which is why our Executive Development Chef for Education, Lee Brimble, develops the school compliant menus which are not only nutritious but dishes that children will enjoy. Variation of dishes is key to enjoyment which is why new menus are released three times a year, this means we can also procure the best seasonal ingredients.
Food refusal is also a complicated challenge when it comes to providing school children nutritional food, but also a very common and normal stage in a child’s development. Children commonly refuse to eat foods which may have an unusual appearance, texture or colour if they are not familiar with it.
One way we overcome this challenge is through our ‘Junior Chef’s Club’, where children are given the opportunity to learn the basics of cookery and kitchen health and safety. The club is formed of several different workshops including carrot preparation, healthy eating, chocolate making and a gardening club.
We facilitate the children’s engagement with food at the very core level, which helps promote a love of cooking and fresh ingredients. By doing so, children are more likely to try unfamiliar foods, we strongly believe these workshops are essential to set the children up to be healthy teenagers and adults.