With the health and obesity levels of our nation’s children never far from the spotlight, the food service industry has an obligation to provide our schools with healthy, nutritious food. So, whether you’re in-house or a contract caterer, what do you actually need to know about nutrition challenges in schools in order to be a successful (and legally compliant) school caterer?
What are the School Food Standards?
The School Food Standards were launched in 2013 by the School Food Plan, detailing 17 actions to transform both what children eat at school, and the way they learn about food. They advise schools on what should and shouldn’t be offered throughout the school day. The revised standards for school food came into force on 1 January 2015 (they are now mandatory) and are set out in the requirements for School Food Regulations 2014, which you can read here. The 2014 Regulations are the law to which all schools must adhere.
You can download the checklist for school lunches here, the checklist for school food other than lunch (such as after-school food and breakfast clubs) here. Also available is a guide to portion sizes and food groups here. View a summary of the School Food Standards on this handy tea towel.
What assistance is available to help school caterers meet the Standards?
Interestingly, schools are actually assessed by Ofsted’s new Common Inspection Framework on how children keep themselves healthy. As part of this Ofsted inspectors obviously look at the food offered in a school. Schools therefore have a vested interested in improving their food to meet the standards, in order to reach a higher Ofsted grading.
However there is support available – a lot of which is from the School Food Plan website. There’s even a tried and tested bank of 100 recipes that are fully compliant with the standards, which you can access here. They also operate the What Works Well site that helps to share best practice, tips and advice for school caterers.
The Children’s Food Trust also launched guidance in conjunction with Public Health England. They include menu checking, advice on buying healthier food and ingredients, and practical tools and free resources. You can view all of these resources on the Children’s Food Trust website here. The’ll also help you to comply with the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services Mandatory Nutrition Criteria (GBSF). The GBSF isn’t mandatory, but they may help you in your purchasing decisions and when dealing with suppliers.
The Children’s Food Trust (which also uses Saffron) has partnered with Unilever to produce some really useful guidance for caterers on meeting the School Food Standards, which you can access here.
The Soil Association runs the Food For Life initiative, which works with schools on a subscription-based package framework to help them achieve excellence awards with the Food for Life mark.
It’s also definitely worth visiting the Education Catering Exhibition in July.
What about food labelling?
Since food in schools is not pre-packed, it doesn’t have to be labelled with a nutritional breakdown at point of purchase. Providing nutritional information in this way is actually still voluntary, but if you choose to do it then it must be displayed in the format specified in the Food Information Regulations. However, school food does have to comply with the Food Information Regulations 2014 when alerting customers to any allergens present in the food.
How can software help with meeting these nutritional challenges in Schools and Education?
The great thing about Saffron is that you can easily get a complete nutritional analysis of your menu, as it’s automatically populated from your stock database upwards. There are two ways that detailed nutritional information can be imported for your ingredients:
- It can be attached to each stock item from the McCance and Widdowson database
- Or it can be imported from specific suppliers
So, once you have nutritional information per ingredient, it’s then easy to add your ingredients to a recipe. The nutritional information for each ingredient is pulled through into your recipe. Just specify your yield and Saffron provides a complete nutritional analysis of your recipe, per portion.
But what if the nutritional information of a stock item changes’ Easy: your recipes are automatically updated in Saffron with the new nutrients of that ingredient.
Want to get a bigger picture and see beyond individual recipes’ Then add all your recipes into a menu, and Saffron can calculate a complete nutritional analysis of your whole menu. This is especially important for school caterers, since you need to adhere to a holistic week-long menu that covers not only lunch, but after-school clubs and breakfasts too.
All of this information can be provided in the traffic-light style of nutritional analysis.
The key thing that our software can help with is the nutritional guidelines that are attached to the School Food Standards. These can be easily defined in Saffron, and you can set your already nutritionally-analysed recipes and menu against them, and take action to switch ingredients to make your food fit the standards.
Watch the video below to see how Saffron can help caterers to provide the right nutritional and allergenic information on the food they are serving – consistently, accurately and verifiably: