Brain-boosting menus at Gordonstoun

Menus focusing on brain boosting foods are helping students at Gordonstoun, near Elgin, northern Scotland to excel in their work, exams and sport. The school is an international, co-educational day and boarding school for students aged 4 to 18.

During the first year of the new menu, GCSE results were the best ever and levels of obesity were far lower than average.

Lisa Kerr, Principal, says “The menu is based on solid scientific evidence. Many studies have shown the link between food and both mental and physical wellbeing. We also know that a healthier diet makes a difference in the school environment because we have been running a revision course for several years, which combines brain boosting foods with study and exercise. All students on our revision course have seen their performance improve by at least one grade compared to their mock exams, with 60% improving by two grades.”

As a result of this success, the menu was completely overhauled and different dishes trialled. Jamie Campbell, Catering Manager, says “We always review menus at the end of every term, but when Covid hit, we had the opportunity to start from scratch. That’s when the idea for a “Phased Learning Menu” came up. We wanted to create a menu that would benefit the students and give them the energy they needed.”

According to Ross Burgess, Executive Chef, some dishes were already “brain boosting” such as salmon and trout, fresh berries, seeds and pulses, so it was a matter of creating new dishes to fit the brief. The whole catering team was involved in devising the new menu which includes dishes such as Beef and Beans Burritos, Potatoes with Chilli and Cheese Sauce and Hake with Asparagus.

“We tried to leave favourite desserts on the menu,” says Ross “but I think it would have been a problem taking off fruit crumbles! We’ve reduced the amount of sugar in the crumble and use 50% wholegrain flour to make it healthier.”

Another positive for the new menu is a reduction in food waste. “We monitor the food left on students’ plates and in the food bin and estimate there’s been 40% less food waste over the past eight months,” says Jamie.

One of the aims of the new menu is to educate students about food so they can make their own informed choices. Every Friday evening there is a Carb and Protein Bar offering chicken, fish, rice and wholegrain bread.

“Students will compete in sports such as hockey and rugby on the Saturday,” says Jamie, “so we want them to have plenty of energy. Students are encouraged to ‘build’ their own tacos and choose what dishes to have.”

Schools seeking to introduce a similar initiative are recommended to involve the whole team. “Everyone has been involved – it’s been a team effort, it’s not just down to one person. Chefs who’ve worked here a long time were so excited by this new challenge. We took the plunge and started from scratch, you could start the process by changing one or two dishes, but it will take longer,” advises Jamie.

BOX OUTS:

Sharad R is in Year 13 and is a 400 metre runner:

“In all sports, the actual event is only half the battle. You have to prepare accurately whether it comes to training, stretching, warming up, or making sure you’ve got that nutrition to make sure you’re not running on empty the entire event or match. I have dietary requirements and the school caters for that. Even though I might be glucose or lactose intolerant, knowing that I can still get a nutritious meal before my sports events is very reassuring.”

Keira W-N is in Year 13 and plays hockey and netball:

 “I think the new menu really makes a difference because food really
is the fuel for your body and eating right is a massive step towards that. If we don’t eat the right food then we’re not going to achieve at the highest level, so it’s very important to us.”