In the education sector there is more to a caterer’s role than nourishing children’s bodies, they can also play a vital role linking the curriculum with practical, hands-on experience. Working with teachers, catering staff can help children learn more about individual ingredients, where their food comes from and how to cook with it. Classes with participating caterers can often include practical sessions such as growing peas, beans and mint or visiting a farm.

At The Academy for Character and Excellence (ACE), a trust of eight schools based in Devon, Sam Ward, Trust Catering Lead is often asked to support teaching staff as part of food science or healthy eating topics. “I take in different vegetables and ask children to identify them and if they know how they are grown. We then look at what vegetables are used in dishes such as pizzas,” she says. “The children make smashed pea and mint bruschetta with me which teaches them various skills – podding the peas and beans, snipping the herbs, mashing with a fork and spreading. These are topped with pea shoots and served to parents as canapes.”

James Taylor, executive chef, Chefs in Schools, collaborates with teachers at the two schools he works at – Harrington Hill and Sir Thomas Abney, both primary schools in London. “We’ll work on a link between what they’re teaching in class and the food we’re preparing,” he says. “One teacher was reading a book in class, set in Trinidad, about a character who makes rotis (flatbreads). I was asked to bring the character to life. So I became that character, cooked chickpea rotis and brought them into the classroom. The kids were enthusiastic and enjoyed eating them.”

James also organised the first ever Vegan Week, connecting food with environmental issues at Harrington Hall. Serving dishes such as vegan Thai curry, vegan mac and cheese and lentil shepherd’s pie, the event was a resounding success. “The children didn’t really notice the lack of meat, they enjoyed the meals and came back for seconds. It was the ideal response and it brought the message home. It was such a success, I will be holding one at Sir Thomas Abney as well. I would like to move over to serving mostly plant-based meals in future. After Vegan Week, many teachers are on board with this idea” he says.

Theme days and special menus are another way school caterers can support pupils’ learning. At ACE schools, when children were taught about France, the kitchen was turned into a French café serving tartiflette, quiche and crepes. Sam says “Other theme days have been around an Anglo Saxon learning journey with Beowulf stew.”

For Black History Month last October, special menus were created at Harrington Hall and Sir Thomas Abney featuring dishes such as jerk chicken drumsticks, Nigerian stew, fried plantain and puff puff with ice cream.

Building relationships with teachers is crucial to ensure that menus can be linked to classroom activities. Caterers can also get involved in after school activities, extending the learning possibilities. Getting started couldn’t be simpler, all it takes is a conversation with the school leadership team and a little creativity, yet the rewards are bountiful – a deeper relationship with the faculty and more engaged students who become increasingly open to experimenting with food.