Monthly Archives: May 2012

My tips for a right royal feast

What a week for one of the schools in our Let’s Get Cooking network! Cape Cornwall Secondary’s been chosen as one of just four schools that will get to cook for the Queen as part of her Jubilee celebrations.

Organised by our friends at British Food Fortnight, it’s a competition to show off some of the incredible cooking and tasting talents of our young people – along with delicious British ingredients.

Even just reading the menu that the Cape Cornwall pupils designed has got me smacking my lips: leek, saffron and crab pasty…grilled Cornish scallops with tomato, garlic and basil…chilled strawberry and pepper soup…strawberry cheesecake with Cornish gingerbread…sweet saffron scones with clotted cream and jam – it goes on and on.

I’ve been lucky enough to cook for the Queen during my career, so here are my top tips for the pupils who’ll be watching the palace chefs prepare their canapé designs and helping to serve them at a special reception:

  • Be proud and confident with your menus – don’t let the pressure get to you. You wouldn’t have been chosen if they didn’t think your food’s up to the job!
  • The Queen doesn’t eat much – she gets offered so much food in the course of her duties that she has lots of tasters. That means portion sizes for your canapés are important
  • Timing is everything. Cooking for HRH is about military precision – the palace chefs will need to practice your recipes to make sure everything will be ready at exactly the right time
  • Talk about your fantastic British ingredients and local suppliers. We’ve got such an eclectic mix of food producers in this country and we need to support them
  • Our food heritage is amazing but adding a modern twist is what makes your food really stick in the memory. Who knows, maybe HRH will recommend you!

Rob is a professional chef, food campaigner and our chairman. Click to email Rob. Click here for a taste of what Rob cooked for the Queen.

Let’s Get Cooking provides training, support and resources for setting up and running healthy cooking activities for people of all ages. Let’s Get Cooking has created England’s largest network of school-based, healthy cooking clubs which have already reached more than 2 million people. Get in touch to see if Let’s Get Cooking could help your school, business or community. 

The million-dollar school food questions

Ask our chief executive, Judy, why she wanted this job and she’ll tell you a big part of it came from her own experiences as a parent. She wanted her children to be able to eat well, but she also remembers how hard it can be to speak up when you’re not happy – or when you’ve got a good idea but you’re not sure how to turn it into action. Do other parents feel the same? Who should you raise issues with at school? What if no one will help?

I hear the same concerns in my work to help parents get involved with improving food at their children’s schools. Often, they’ve never been asked for their opinion, and aren’t sure how to get their voices heard. But the more they take part and the more they question, the better lunchtimes get. What’s really interesting is that parents are incredibly good at suggesting solutions that will work. You’re keen to roll up your sleeves, and great at getting other parents to support what you’re doing.

Your views of the food at your child’s school have never been more important. Your influence can be very powerful in demanding that every child has a good experience at lunchtime. And this is make or break stuff – we know that how children feel about lunch can often determine how they feel about their entire day at school.

So, here are my top picks of questions to ask if you’re looking at a school for your child. They’ll help you find out how your school’s catering works so that you can get yourself more involved:

• Do you cook hot meals from scratch in your own kitchens?
• Where will I find your menus?
• Can I come in and try a meal?
• How do pupils choose what to eat?
• How much is a school meal?
• Can my child have seconds?
• Do you run any special offers?
• Do you have a cooking club?
• Do you have Healthy Schools Status?

If your child’s already at school, here’s when you know you need to ask more questions:

• Your child says the lunch queue’s too long or that they can never get a seat
• Your child says certain food options are regularly running out before he/she gets to the front of the queue
• Your child keeps asking for a packed lunch instead, or for money to go out at lunchtime
• Your child says they’re hungry in the afternoons
• Your child doesn’t want to go into the canteen at all

Find more information about what to ask about school food here.

Watch a video we’ve made of the fantastic work being done by Hatfield Woodhouse Primary School, led by a group of parents.

Lisette works with parents at many schools to help them get more involved with school food, and is a trainer for our Let’s Get Cooking programme. If you and parents at your school would like to do more, she’d love to hear from you. Email Lisette

Loving your work, Martha!

I couldn’t let the week go by without posting about NeverSeconds – the school meals blog by nine year-old Martha Payne, which has had more than a hundred thousand hits.

Martha’s pictures and ratings of her lunches at school in Scotland have got everyone talking; the national papers have been knocking and a little bird tells me she’s even got a spot on Radio 4 next week.

There have been lots of blogs about school meals in the past but this one’s really captured attention. So while we’re on the subject of pupil power, I’d love to see more pupils  sharing what they think of food at their school.

When I see schools doing a fantastic job on their food, they always have pupils heavily involved. They listen to what pupils are telling them about the menu, the dishes they love (and don’t love) how it feels to be in the dining room, what they like, what they don’t like and how they think things could be better. Some things are easy fixes; others are more difficult, but understanding where they’re coming from is half the battle.

A colleague told me about a national conference where she was lucky enough to hear a session from a pair of students from Queen Katherine School in Kendal. They talked about their experiences of helping to make lunchtimes great at their school – fascinating stuff. They had enthusiasm in bucketloads and some really sensible ideas. They were asked loads of questions and of all the presentations that day, she says it was the one that really stuck in her mind.

So Martha – keep up the good work. And if you’re looking for a job in a few years’ time, drop us a line!

Steph is our marketing specialist. She helps schools to work with pupils and to get creative with promoting school meals without spending a packet. Email Steph. 

An obesity time bomb? It’s already gone off.

My life from an early age has always been food and cooking. I had a family that cared about it, a school that allowed me to learn cookery with the girls class and a career as a chef that has now led me into the world of food policy and social enterprise, not only in this country but around the world.

To sign a letter asking the Government to keep cookery in the curriculum isn’t a big decision. I see the evidence of what cooking skills can do for children whenever I visit a Let’s Get Cooking club. This simply shouldn’t be a political issue but a basic public health policy for any government, anywhere.

Every day of my life I see the passion and inspiration that learning can cook can bring to peoples lives. I see drug and alcohol addicts and people with all sorts of disabilities and mental health conditions embracing the skills, health outcomes, self esteem benefits of cookery. They use those lessons to change their lives for the better for ever.

At school, cooking brings education alive for children. Its versatility to deliver most subjects in the curriculum makes it unique. It is a subject that levels abilities, increases dialogue and interaction and can be a subject that brings classroom, school and family cohesion to the forefront.

To talk about an obesity time bomb now is folly. It’s already gone off. Spending £5bn per year on obesity with predictions of costs spiralling out of control? I’d say we now face obesity armageddon. In my own area alone, we’re spending  nearly £150million per year on obesity-related conditions. We need better control on the food education of our future and its economic impact; brilliant cookery teachers can deliver so much.

I agree we’ve all got a responsibility to help our children with this. But we need the policy framework  in place to deliver the core minimum, allowing society to add further value where we can. Ignoring cooking in the curriculum will disadvantage our economy, education and health systems for generations to come.

Rob Rees is our chairman. Email Rob here or visit his website.

Water, water everywhere…..

Laura Sharp

Laura Sharp

It may have been one of the rainiest weeks we’ve seen in a long time, but it seems there’s one place where children are in need of much more water: on the breakfast table.

Findings from researchers at Sheffield University’s Medical School suggest that almost two thirds of children aren’t having enough to drink before school to be properly hydrated.

That’s a big concern – not just because we all need to be well hydrated for our bodies to work correctly and for good health, but also because studies have shown that children perform better in class after having a drink. Researchers found their memory and focus improved afterwards, so it’s serious food (or drink!) for thought.

My top tips on hydration for children:

  • They generally need around 6-8 glasses (that’s around 1.2 litres) of fluid every day. They might need more if it’s warm, or if they’re taking part in physical activity
  • When children are dehydrated they’re likely to complain of a headache, or seem generally out of sorts. A glass of water or another healthy drink is always a good place to start to make them feel better!
  • Water should be your first choice of drink for children, and it’s all our bodies need to stay hydrated. But other drinks can also help get children towards their recommended amount of fluids each day
  •  The school food standards require that there’s free, fresh drinking water available for pupils at all times at school. Children need to be able to get to this easily – you might put water fountains or coolers and cups in the dining room or around the school, or water jugs on tables in the dining room
  • You might also let pupils take bottles of water into lessons so they can sip throughout the day
  • Schools don’t have to provide other types of drinks at all if they don’t want to. If you do, you must follow the food-based standard for healthier drinks. This means drinks which hydrate pupils but also provide a nutritional benefit (like milk, which is a source of calcium)
  • We also encourage schools to sign up to our Voluntary Code of Practice for drinks. This means you’re providing healthier drinks that are unsweetened and free from additives wherever possible.

If you want more information on the research I’ve cited above, check out: Benton D. Dehydration influences mood and cognition: a plausible hypothesis? Nutrients 2011 May;3(5):555-73. Epub 2011 May 10.

Edmonds CJ, Burford D. Should children drink more water?: the effects of drinking water on cognition in children. Appetite 2009 Jun;52(3):776-9. Epub 2009 Mar 5.

Laura’s one of our research nutritionists. The team are here to help with your questions about the school food standards, guidelines for food in early years settings, other menus for children and nutrition in little ones. Email Laura here.