‘We stand as the positive disruptor, challenging future generations’

Sponsored: Deborah Homshaw, managing director of CH&CO Independent, talks about challenging and changing issues around food supply, and the menu of the future

You’ve long been a fan of trying to teach healthy relationships with food via interactive learning. Is that something you’ve explored even more in the wake of lockdowns?

We created our ‘From the Kitchen’ interactive, virtual magazine to do exactly that, even when schools were closed. It allowed us to be invited into children’s homes to share our love of food and education in a fun way, continuing important conversations around food and nutrition.

Children and families really engaged with the content – including supermarket swaps, quizzes, family recipes, tutorial videos and educational snippets – covering topics such as nutrition and sustainability. Feedback was wonderful and participation was high; we connected in a very immediate and personal fashion. In fact, in early October the initiative saw us win the Education of the Year award at the Foodservice Cateys.

We’ve heard much about learning deficits in the likes of maths and English since the pandemic, but could the same also be said about nutritional knowledge and eating habits?

I was recently talking to a school about this very matter. Having been at home for such a long time, children had access to food in a very different manner. With many parents working at home and teaching and looking after children, mealtimes sometimes became fairly relaxed.

Children were perhaps able to have what they asked for, or ordered online, as parents and carers were so busy multitasking for so many months. Not that I think parents did a poor job, it’s more that every day became more aligned to a weekend- or holiday-style day, with food often following suit and becoming more relaxed. As we continue to readjust after lockdowns, these are habits and behaviours that perhaps we all need to look at.

Regardless of whether the food was great all the time, more people definitely developed an interest in cooking; we all saw how baking soared. Our next challenge is to garner this enthusiasm and channel it into nutritionally balanced meal options. Menu compilation and nutrition should be second nature to everyone, a journey we are all still very much on.

To some extent, you must have anticipated that the new academic year would mark a return to near normality. And then came shortages of food, fuel, etc. Has it been another big challenge?

It has, but we met it head-on by being super organised and well prepared ahead of time, with detailed analysis of expected volumes and items, and fabulous support from our procurement teams and suppliers.

We have taken every step to safeguard our service to each school. That isn’t to say it is perfect every day, but our open communication has kept clients informed every step of the way.

If commentators are right, and we’re reaching the end of the just-in-time supply chain, might it impact on the way you work with schools in the future?

The supply chain is changing, and we all must analyse and predict better than ever before. That means huge benefits for our world, in food waste reduction and delivery miles alone.

Education was the first part of CH&CO to champion green delivery options, and we have made a massive CO2 reduction contribution. It was our sector that said nothing will stop us trying to help our future world, because the issue simply cannot be ignored. We stand as the positive disruptor, challenging future generations and the future of the education sector.

Our newly launched Future of Food campaign is a bold and strong statement reflecting all we do and stand for in terms of wellbeing and sustainability, from food deliveries to what children are eating and the waste created.

You’re currently working on a multisensory dining initiative. What does this involve?

We are expanding the way a menu is perceived and looking at the complete experience around food. When we choose from a traditional menu, what arrives is often not what we read it to be.

We all know we eat with our eyes, but we also eat with our noses, touch and hearing. Developing this idea allows us to become fully inclusive and diverse, regardless of individual circumstance; we want to push the boundaries of food and menu selection.

Making people think encourages debate, and the more debate about fabulous, nutritious food, the better!

What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

Seeing our children continue to develop, being brave and standing up for what they believe in. Our responsibility is to impart knowledge and to listen, so that they can do just that. There is nothing more rewarding than watching people flourish when you give them your time and focus. That is what we strive to do every day.

We will not stop until more people understand the benefits of eating well, and just how easy it is, throughout their whole lives.

W: www.chandcogroup.com/education

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