As education caterers, a lot of our time is spent ensuring pupils eat well. In today’s world the requirements of the education caterer do not stop there. Parents, of course, have a significant role in the education of their young children. This applies more so to food. So, parental communication ensures our role in their child’s development is embraced by everyone involved. After all, a parent may not comment on a maths or history lesson but everyone has something to say about lunch.
During a recent school visit, I noticed there were more than just pupils in the dining room at lunchtime. This was because, with the school, we had invited parents to dine with their children. This initiative, which we call ‘Come Lunch With Me’, allows parents and guardians to see what our catering looks like in a day-to-day context, and answer their questions. We know that parents receive frequent and well-planned updates regarding their children’s academic progress. Most have easy contact with those responsible for their pastoral care and wellbeing. However, an area where such specific information is difficult to analyse is catering. Yet we know it is so important to the future of our children and our country. What would be made of a school that was given a grade C in eating? We also know that the attention span of young children can often mean that they ‘forget’ about what they had for lunch. I recall overhearing a discussion at the end of school; a young pupil telling her mum that she had eaten chicken nuggets when the menu had been lasagne. Others can say they didn’t enjoy lunch if they have learnt this can mean a burger after school. Engaging parents in this way can help give them access to as much information about their child’s food as they wish, and ultimately try some too.
School caterers should meet with parents to discuss menus and any dietary requirements their child may have. We find parents, particularly of young children, are encouraged by these face-to-face meetings. They help instill confidence in both parents and school, that all their child’s needs are being catered for. Keen that every pupil eats well, we will work with parents to identify which food types work for all. We also use online methods to communicate to parents about what their child is eating. Menus are available via schools’ websites so that they can see what is on the menu three weeks in advance.
Involving parents has more value than just keeping them happy, the work we do towards educating pupils about healthy eating can be followed up at home. This is why the majority of our education initiatives have an element to engage parents.
For example, pupils who have created a smoothie on our smoothie bike receive recipes to take home. Our assemblies are also tailored to continue learning at home too. Following a recent healthy eating assembly, one parent contacted the school to say how impressed they were that their 10-year-old had checked all the ingredients in their kitchen cupboards to see which items were the heathier options.
The pupil, the school, and even the country benefits when children are eating well. We are fortunate to be in a situation where this can happen, and so we should do our utmost to ensure it does. Everyone has a part to play; and working together is the most powerful energy.
Sue Parfett is Managing Partner of independent schools' caterer, The Brookwood Partnership, part of the CH&Co Group