Pan-fried hake with fennel, potato and chickpea stew. Sumac and harissa grilled chicken with cumin rice, cabbage slaw and tzatziki. Beetroot Wellington with watercress, stilton and pear salad. These might sound like expensive restaurant dishes but these meals are being served up in UK state schools.
What’s more, everything on the plate is made from scratch. And rather than breaking the bank, the schools are breaking even.
Our charity – Chefs in Schools – is helping schools to transform their kitchens and serve up food like this. We’ve found one magic ingredient that’s the key to success – staffing.
We help schools find and train highly skilled chefs who will run the kitchen like a restaurant. As well as making incredible food, the chefs use industry techniques to reduce food waste and to ensure the produce pays its way. They also train, inspire and mentor the kitchen brigade. It makes all of the difference.
Getting good brain food is not brain science – far from it. All you need is to mix together that skilled Head Chef, some staff training, a heap of fresh produce and a sprinkling of creativity. Your school will be serving up nutritious, delicious food at no extra cost. The local authority has confirmed it will pay.
Sugar and salt
If your kitchen team cooks from scratch, you can make a real difference to diets. We don’t have sugar in main meals, there’s limited use of refined sugar in desserts and salt is used sparingly.
The chefs source incredible produce – sustainable fish from our seas, meat from British farmers and fresh veg from local suppliers. We suggest going meat-free two days a week and serving fresh fish once a week as well.
Education is key too. The Head Chefs we recruit run cookery lessons, teaching children to love and understand what real food is and how to cook it.
Sounds like extra work which you could do without? I’ll be honest with you. Initially it does require effort and teething problems are not unheard of. But that initial effort more than pays off.
You’ll know what the children are eating and you’ll have a happy kitchen team. What’s more, research has shown that when school food improves, children are more attentive and do better in class.
For us, this is all about improving the health of children through better food and food education. School meals should never be bland, boring or bad for you. They have to be nutritious and delicious.
Child obesity rates are rising, one in three are obese by the time they leave school. In deprived areas, it can be one in five. The impact to their health and to society is significant.
By 2050, obesity will cost the NHS £9.7 billion a year. Serving up the right kind of food won’t just benefit your school – it benefits the pupils and all of us.
There’s a misconception that good produce and fresh food costs more. In reality, it’s the pre-made meals and packet sauces that come with a higher price tag.
Make food from scratch and you can make savings. Make savings and you can keep investing in upskilling your kitchen team. Better is possible when it comes to school food and better is possible on a budget too.
To find out more about our work, please visit our website: chefsinschools.org.uk.
Naomi Duncan, CEO at food charity Chefs in Schools