At a time when more and more people are talking about the importance of good, sustainable food, not only to make people feel good physically and mentally, but to protect the future of our planet, caterers CH&CO have introduced a new initiative to lead the way.
The Education Board by CH&CO is made up of passionate people from foodservice, independent schools, state schools, the third sector and the healthcare sector. They will educate children about good food and nutrition, whilst also doing their best to reverse the impact of negative messaging about certain foods being ‘bad’.
A key part of the Board’s strategy is cross-sector partnerships. “There’s a lot of partnerships currently but they don’t actually focus at all on nutrition and food; and food is the one thing that links everybody,” Deborah Homshaw, managing director of CH&CO Independent, tells me.
She continues: “By coming together as food service providers and educators, surely we can call the country to arms and say, let’s get in on this, let’s change this at the ground level – we have the ability to do so.”
CH&CO have been discussing the idea of The Education Board for the last 18 months, having carried out a tremendous amount of work in independent schools that Homshaw says has “gained a lot of gravitas and traction” with parents, the wider school community and children.
“But why should it only be in one sector?” Homshaw says. “So, John [Pratten] and I came together and said, actually, let’s launch it across all sectors. Let’s try and break down the barriers that have been between the sectors in the past.”
Back to basics
But what are some of the common misconceptions around food? Homshaw explains: “People associate ‘healthy’ food with expensive food and that’s not correct, at all. Good, honest, simple, well-cooked food is not expensive. We’ve had banana skin curry in a school – it’s cost-effective, because children eat bananas by the ton, and it’s even environmentally sound.
“I completely understand that there is real pressure on purse strings within schools, but what I’m saying is to go back to the basics. Take away the processed food, the reliance on convenience and bought-in food, and it’s more cost-effective and better for the child.”
Homshaw believes schools can then link the food in with the environment, ticking boxes for health, making sure the planet is sustained for the next 50 years and meeting children’s interest in the environment.
But there’s more to environmentally friendly food than just using local suppliers now, as focus turns to mileage and carbon emissions from vehicles used to deliver produce. Homshaw says: “I do think it’s important to support communities and buy British, but we have to do the right thing on a global basis for the environment.”
People associate ‘healthy’ food with expensive food and that’s not correct, at all. Good, honest, simple, well-cooked food is not expensive
The school’s role
While many sectors will be involved in CH&CO’s project, schools certainly have a big part to play. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to ensure that a child eats properly but if they are at school all day long, or most of the day, where else are they going to get their nutrition and fuel?
“Children are under huge pressure and schools will produce more well-rounded children if they look seriously at the food they’re delivering.”
CH&CO will be sending out information asking schools to identify the partnerships that they have or new ones that they can form, looking at how they can share resources, facilities or extra-curricular activities.
Once these discussions have been had, CH&CO will share the courses and activities they propose for September. This includes fun and practical ways of getting children and adults alike talking about food, including an exciting upcoming cooking competition where students can work with mentor chefs.
CH&CO have also partnered with a university to carry out research into the effect of nutrition in education, so that schools can benefit from scientifically backed evidence that what they’re doing will have a positive impact.
CH&CO’s launch event for The Education Board – an event filled with examples of nutritious food held at Westminster Kingsway College (pictures above) – even saw renowned chef Raymond Blanc OBE speak about the link between food and sustainability.
The event also allowed schools to give their feedback to CH&CO.
“They felt it was really on point with conversations in the country today,” says Homshaw. “They really like the idea of partnerships – and that came from both state and independent schools. What also really resonated was the message that you can teach the curriculum through food; I think that opened a lot of eyes.”
The right thing
It’s a big project, but one CH&CO believes they are perfectly placed to take on.
Homshaw says: “I don’t think a food service provider has looked at it from this angle before. I think lots of people have tried and have done very commendable work, but this needs to be done on a big scale. The ambition would be to roll it out in the 400 schools we have in the company, and get partnerships with another 400, then continue to escalate.
“We want to see everybody joining the conversation and getting involved. This is way beyond commercial gain, way beyond politics; this is about doing the right thing for children and for the future.”