As the end of the year approaches, I’m often asked what trends and developments I think have shaped the year. The sheer extent of specialist dietary requirements that we now see is right up there. The growth of this area is notable, and I would argue that it’s greater in schools than in any other sector of the industry, with 5%–6% of children having allergen challenges.
It’s also a much bigger picture than just the 14 allergens identified by law. The need in schools goes beyond allergens and includes other health conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease and phenylketonuria. It also covers lifestyle choices, the enormous growth in vegan diets being an obvious example, which can pose the risk of nutritional deficiencies if not properly managed.
The dietetic and nutritional knowledge needed by school caterers cannot be underestimated. For at least one meal a day (and every meal when it comes to boarders), the school caterer is responsible for meeting all dietary needs in a safe, inclusive and delicious way. Expert support from nutritionists is essential to keep chefs up to date with the latest guidance, and the evolving chef/nutritionist partnership is a most positive outcome of this growth sector.
It’s not just physical health that’s influencing menu development, the focus on wellbeing and mental health will continue to grow into 2019. We really are at the tip of the iceberg here. There’s an ever-increasing rise in the connection between dining and pupils’ overall wellbeing. And, it’s not just about what they’re eating, but also how they’re eating. It’s fantastic that we’re seeing more acceptance of social dining in schools and we’re introducing eating styles that encourage social interaction and get pupils chatting over their food.
It’s a very positive and powerful message.
So, what do I think next year has in store? Currently, 2019 is rife with political and economic uncertainty, so predictions are harder than ever to make. One thing I am certain of, though, is that the traditional style of school dining must continue to be challenged.
Children want exciting food experiences that reflect their world and it’s our job to understand this. Gen Z is savvy and experienced when it comes to dining out. We need to embrace what’s happening on the high street, keep up with technology and be transparent and progressive when it comes to food sourcing and preparation and its impact on the environment.
I also strongly believe that we have to make food fun again and I vote that starts with banning the term ‘bad food’. Food is not bad for us (manmade processed food may be, but one could argue that isn’t really food – maybe that’s a topic for another discussion!) yet our society has succeeded in creating bad relationships with food that we all have an absolute responsibility to reverse.
CH&CO Independent’s focus for 2019 will continue to be serving intrinsically nutritious, inclusive food that can be enjoyed by everyone, and encourages the enhanced academic grade, the boost on the sports field or simply a better sense of community and wellbeing. We will do this, as we always have, with creative, mouth-watering dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients and served in mindful, positive spaces.
CH&CO Independent: chandcogroup.com/education
December really is a magical of time of the year and I can’t think of a better place to be than in our schools, surrounded by excited children. I wish you all a joyous and sparkle-filled festive season. The team and I are off to serve tens of thousands of delicious Christmas dinners (suitable for all dietary needs!) and in our quest to make all food fun, the pupils in our schools will be enjoying the sprout on top of their special festive dinner!