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Catering & Nutrition

The free school meals conundrum S

teve Quinn, MD of school caterers Cucina, discusses what can be done to increase the low uptake of free school meals.

“According to several sets of recent figures, only one in three UK school students eligible for free school meals is currently taking up this entitlement. For educators and those of us working in school catering, this figure should ring alarm bells.

We must develop a clearer and more detailed understanding of why the numbers are dropping and then use this knowledge to try and turn the figures around.

Beating the stigma

Angus Holford’s widely cited 2012 report ‘Take- up of Free School Meals: Price Effects and Peer Effects’ found that over 25% of those entitled to free school meals brought a packed lunch to school because they feared being stigmatised. This conclusion makes sense, doesn’t it? Obviously no young person wants to be made to stand out from his or her peers in this way. ‘Stigma ‘was also cited by Janey Thornton, the US Deputy Under Secretary for Food and Nutrition in her guest speaker slot at this year’s Children’s Food Trust Conference when she said: “Kids would rather go hungry than be stigmatised.”

Many schools have put initiatives in place to More choice, more meals

An interesting new study, published in April by Leeds Metropolitan University in Public Health Nutrition Journal, drew some different conclusions. The study, across four primary and four secondary schools in Leeds, found that although ‘stigma’ was cited by some as a reason not to take up free school meals, food quality, food choice and dining environment were bigger factors.

Professor Pinki Sahota, leader of the Leeds research, concluded that the best way to improve the uptake of free school meals was by increasing uptake generally. I agree, but how to achieve that?

Sahota says the answer is to pay closer attention to the quality and availability of the food, as well as the social and cultural aspects of dining. Again, I’m in full agreement. Colourful, buzzy and fun environments with attractive fresh food choices help give school meals a ‘cool’ factor. Eating school food becomes the thing to do, it creates desire and the virtuous circle begins. In such an environment, students eligible for free school

meals will feel more motivated to take up their option. But at this point, we must once again be mindful of the ‘stigma’ issue.

Investment required

If we are offering a wide range of attractive fresh food choices to the majority of our diners, but limiting our free school mealers to the ‘meal deal of the day’, what are we saying, in effect? We are telling these students that they cannot be part of the buzzy, exciting environment we have created for everyone else: you must take what we give you, or you must go without. This is why I believe it is so important to allow free school meal students to ‘shop across the shop’ and choose their free lunch item from across the entire range of what is on offer. I know the cost difficulties this may pose in areas where there are high numbers of free school meal students, but if we are serious about the health of future generations, resources must be invested and a way must be found.”

address the stigma issue (cashless payment systems, seating packed lunch and school lunch students together, etc.) but we have still barely made a dent in the figures.

Innovate completes school catering revamp


n a matter of weeks, Innovate Services, the innovative school catering operator, has launched brand new catering facilities at George Abbot School, Guildford, which has resulted in the number of students using the facilities treble following its opening after the Easter holidays. In a bid to offer greater food choice and encourage an uptake in the number of healthy meals being chosen by students, Innovate revamped facilities in three areas of the school that has over 1,970 students. Designed to provide an increased menu choice, including a ‘world food’ concept in one building, a relaxing, sociable environment has been introduced. Innovate, which won Educatering’s Contract Caterer of the Year, was awarded the George Abbot School contract following a competitive tender process. Julian Seymour, Business Manager of George Abbot explains why Innovate was selected: “Innovate stood out to us on many levels. The whole team’s general enthusiasm and passion for transforming the catering business is very genuine. We also visited Weydon School in Farnham to see another Innovate site in action and were so impressed with what we saw. The quality of the food offered reflected a high street offer rather than a traditional ‘school meal’. May 2013

Victor brings the carvery option to school catering


K catering equipment manufacturer Victor Manufacturing has produced a range of carvery options to add to its offerings.

The range features something for all operations – from the institutional heavy duty sites, to owner-operators requiring portable table top options. The table top units, part of Victor’s Toppers range, sit conveniently atop counters and are available in single and double top format with tiled insert and carvery pad, bains marie, as well as the single buffet carvery Topper alternative. All are fitted with variable heat control to base, manufactured in heavy duty stainless steel, fitted with 300w operator changeable quartz lamps with dimmer control (on gantry-fitted models) and powered by 13 amp supply.

For general purpose use, where a flexibility to adapt to changes in foodservice menus and volumes is needed, Victor’s Crown and Jamaican bains marie hot cupboard units fit the bill. Both are available with a number of different tops to cover all service requirements including, carvery, tiled, and glass inserts.

Whatever the size of service, Victor has a carvery option that can deliver in terms of flexibility, reliability, size and price.

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