How do we ensure healthier school catering? The staple menu of choice of pizza and chips or other fast food items is one that constantly worries nutritionists; but a landmark pilot scheme by Chartwells has revealed an interesting trend.
Chartwells specialises in providing catering services to the education sector, and recently carried out research, the Nudge Nudge initiative. This discovered if there were methods linked to menu presentation and guidance that could be used to drive healthier eating in secondary schools.
The pilot scheme saw an average increase of 8% in healthier choice take-up. This has led to a new customised menu to be introduced nationwide after Easter to Chartwells’ portfolio of 450 secondary schools.
The scheme involved school menus being tailored to include a number of ‘nudging’ techniques such as:
- red heart stickers next to the more nutritious menu options;
- descriptive adjectives relating to texture, taste or smell;
- as well as information given out in assemblies, workshops and health stalls.
The most successful nudge, achieved through using red heart stickers on grab-and-go items such as selected sandwiches, fruit pots and water, increased sales by 8%.
In addition, students at the three schools targeted enjoyed a huge uplift in their knowledge. They scored 85% post-trial when asked 10 questions on nutrition and healthy eating compared to 36% before.
Richard Taylor, Managing Director of Chartwells, commented: “The results of the trial have provided us with so much insight into what more we can do to encourage healthy eating. Findings from this compelling pilot have been used to create new menus across our secondary schools. We believe that by working together and continuing to educate students about choosing more nutritious meals, schools as well as their pupils, will reap the benefits.”
In 2005, Jamie Oliver won the war over Turkey Twizzlers. This was followed by a ban on crisps and a restriction on deep-fat fried food in schools. In 2014, the Universal Infant Free School Meals policy was introduced in primary schools. The Department of Education issued revised standards the following year dictating that meals should include at least one portion of vegetables or a salad.
However, there are now fears that cost may send this progression leaping backwards due to Brexit uncertainty. According to the Food for Life’s State of the Nation report, the cost of school-food staples such as pasta, cheese and yoghurt rose significantly in 2018. Caterers said the cost of some fruit and vegetables had increased by 20 per cent. This they attribute to Brexit uncertainty, specifically confusion over trading arrangements.
That being said, it may be worth taking a leaf out of Ashley Painter’s book. As a kitchen manager, he helps prepare over 1,200 healthy schools a day. He is a finalist for the BBC Cook of the Year in this year’s Food and Farming Awards. This recognises that “a good canteen kitchen serving nutritious, cleverly-budgeted food transforms lives and it celebrates the people who are creating change through food.”
He works for Local Food Links in Bridport, Dorset. This is a non-profit organisation which has been providing healthy dinners to school children for more than a decade, winning numerous awards. It was recently named as one of the best businesses in the South West. With a limited budget but a lot of imagination and frugality; he manages to provide healthy, inexpensive, nutritious food to thousands of hungry children.
So the answer is we can provide healthier school catering through focused initiatives.