School caterers (and parents) are always looking for ways to entice children to try new things – and a school federation in east London has come up with a very innovative and hugely successful approach.
The New Wave Federation comprises three primary schools in Hackney, and their catering teams prepare meals for over 1,000 hungry youngsters every weekday. The school is absolutely committed to creating healthy and exciting meals for the pupils – and the catering teams livestream videos to encourage them to give new dishes a go.
Oscar John, catering operations manager for the federation, explains: “When we put a new dish on the menu we make a five minute video, which we livestream during assembly. It builds anticipation and it’s unbelievable how powerful visuals can affect children when it comes to food! The school is very big on technology and the pupils get so excited because they saw how the food was made. It blows their minds!”
He continues: “Our three teams are willing to push the boundaries and serve food in a way that children feel they are being totally catered for. We want them to see their meal as exciting rather than functional, and we communicate with them on a regular basis. “We also host cooking classes, where they learn to make things like pizzas, bread, smoothies and kimchi. It’s really important that the children get to know the catering team and have an understanding of where food comes from.”
The eating environment is equally important and falls under the remit of the business manager, Alia Choudhry. “When the federation was formed, I started looking at the fabric of the catering units to see how we could improve the layout of the kitchen and preparation areas and the flow of our service. “We moved away from old-fashioned metal serving tins and made the service area much more colourful and upmarket. “We wanted it to say ‘this part of your school day is just as important as your learning’. We refer to the design as an ‘airport look’ with hot plates and ceramic dishes in bright colours, and overhead lights to keep the food warm. We also dropped the levels of the serving counters so the children could see better.”
Careful consideration is also given to the presentation of food, with fish and chips, for example, being served with fresh parsley and lemon wedges. Independent salad bars offering a variety of different salads has proved hugely successful, and a sound system playing music appropriate to the food being served when we celebrate particular dishes from different countries or to mark celebrations.
Country Range products feature in many of the dishes. “I use a lot of Country Range Chick Peas,” continues Oscar. “They’re such a versatile product. We use them in our samosas, mixed bean salads and also to make hummus. Our samosas are served with Country Range Mango Chutney, and the oats and Greek yogurt in our granola dessert are Country Range too.
“The great thing is that a lot of the products come in different sizes which is really important when you’re on a tight budget. You don’t want to open a massive tin and throw half of it away.”
Top dishes on the menu:
1. LEEK AND MUSHROOM MAC ‘N’ CHEESE
2. HOMEMADE CHICKPEA AND POTATO SAMOSA SERVED WITH MANGO CHUTNEY AND BASMATI RICE
3. BALTI CHICKEN, INDIAN FRAGRANT RICE AND ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND CARROTS
1.CHOCOLATE AND BEETROOT CAKE
2. GRANOLA TOPPED GREEK YOGURT WITH SUMMER BERRIES
3. POLENTA AND ORANGE DRIZZLE CAKE