We are constantly bombarded with conflicting messages regarding food, nutrition and health in the media. But how do we separate what’s fact from fiction? In this article,
In a competitive marketplace, there’s more pressure than ever on school administrators to provide an environment that supports happy, healthy and high-achieving students. It’s not only parents that demand high standards of facilities, staff and supplies. Students also have high expectations. In the era of Yelp!, Trip Advisor and Google Reviews (to name a few) young people are also extremely adept at having their voices heard when they feel their standards aren’t met. Many schools are looking for ways to ensure they’re not only meeting, but exceeding expectations.
There are a variety of challenges when it comes to supporting the holistic requirements of students. Schools are experts at encouraging pupils academically, but there’s more to school life than good grades. Students need to have their emotional and mental wellbeing supported, opportunities to socialise and time to participate in non-academic hobbies and sports. Boarding students in particular can suffer from homesickness, making it even more vital to create a caring environment that properly supports their mental health. Mealtimes are a major piece of the puzzle. These provide time to relax and socialise while experiencing some of the nurturing tastes and comforts of home.
Providing meals that keep students healthy and nourished supports physical health, but it also enables students to perform well academically and on the sporting field. Eating habits learned when young carry on to adulthood, so educating young people around how to make healthy food choices and providing those choices at school is also a challenge. When developing menus, it can be difficult to juggle meeting the nutritional needs of growing bodies and minds with ensuring meals are appealing and tasty enough that food doesn’t go to waste, and ensuring students don’t skip meals altogether.
It can be a challenge to liaise with suppliers to source quality produce at affordable prices and keep catering and staff overheads within budget. When considering staff overheads, you also have to find surplus in the budget to keep them trained to the highest standards of food safety and government compliance. Furthermore, foodborne illness or contamination can result in the kind of reputational damage that no school wants to risk.
You are what you eat. Creating well-balanced, high-achieving and happy students starts with providing quality, nutrient-packed food. Engage a qualified chef and dietitian to design menus that are seasonally updated. This will enable you to capitalise on the cost benefits of purchasing in-season produce, which is also full of nutrients. It also keeps things interesting and exciting for students, so they don’t get bored with the same old thing. Less food waste is less budget waste and it’s better for the environment – a subject about which many young people are passionate about. A chef and dietitian can ensure you include a mix of comfort food ‘just like mum or dad makes’, popular modern food trends and ensure healthy choices are included on the menu. These experts can also guide you in catering to a variety of special diets such as gluten free, vegan and religious diets.
The second key ingredient in overcoming challenges is the dining environment itself. Create a welcoming, warm and social space where students have time to eat meals without feeling rushed. The dining area should have appealing décor and table settings. The little touches of home make a big difference. Nobody feels welcome to stay and socialise in a cold, utilitarian dining hall.
The catering staff also plays a part in enhancing the environment. A warm smile, friendly face and caring demeanour goes a very long way, especially for a boarding student who is missing their nurturing family unit. Staff should be regularly trained and assessed to the highest standards of customer service and food safety. This will ensure your school catering is not only compliant with standards but also doesn’t endanger the health of students, staff and visitors.
Once your well-balanced menus, inviting mealtime environment and excellent staff are in place, it’s important to keep achieving the highest standards and looking for areas of improvement. Collect regular feedback from everyone involved: students, parents, catering and other staff. Through a process of continued consultation, everyone will feel their opinions are heard and you will receive valuable insight into ways you can continue to exceed expectations and surpass your competitors.
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