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A fine balance

With longer days and boarding provision for many children, independent schools have a duty to provide round-the-clock nutrition.

Posted by Hannah Oakman | April 29, 2016 | Catering & hospitality

When you’re providing three meals a day, five or seven days a week, catering is an integral part of school life – after all, it fuels the mind as well as the body. So, how can schools make sure they are providing a balanced diet to keep students in tip-top health as well as keeping them interested?

Kate Martin, managing partner of independent school caterer The Brookwood Partnership, highlights the need to balance healthy and nutritional meals with food that children actually enjoy – a critical part of the school caterer’s job. "It takes a slightly different emphasis, depending on the age of the pupils; parents of younger children want them to have nutritionally sound meals with food that is well sourced," Kate says. "Parents of older children want them to have something they like and, in the case of boys, mainly, ensuring they have enough to eat.   

"There is an extra dimension added if a school has a quota of foreign students who sometimes are not used to the food that we eat in the UK. Whilst most independent school pupils are well travelled, their home country may offer food of a completely different set of tastes and nutritional values. A child that comes from the Far East may be having to adjust to a different eating pattern, but also one considerably lower in salt. All of these have to be accounted for in ensuring the nutrition is suitable for a growing young person.

"Working with the school gives us direction on the key values for feeding boarders. Some schools major in sporting performance and ensuring the correct nutrition for maximising this means we are meeting expectations. However, even in these cases, the Saturday night ‘takeaway’ can be replicated for boarders with pizza in boxes or the ability for groups to have food for sharing.

"As with all things, having a good balance and giving a choice is often the answer. There is a major debate about both sugar as well as salt, as mentioned above. We have responded by trying to control the amount of each.

"Even when we provide the correct diet, of course, pupils may not eat it. So it is vital that everyone works together to help pupils eat healthily and understand the importance of doing so. A subject that my business partner, Sue Parfett, touches on in her monthly catering insight.” 

Tring Park, a specialist school for the performing arts, has to consider the nutrition needs of highly active pupils studying dance and drama. The school provides breakfast, lunch, dinner and an afternoon snack. Sodexo catering manager Rachel Bull says: "A balanced, healthy diet is essential for the performing students at Tring Park, so as caterers we have to ensure that we provide a varied menu that accounts for the number of hours student are being extremely active, particularly the students on the dance courses.

"We need to make sure that there are lots of high carbohydrate foods available at most meals as well as foods that are high in protein. However, we also provide a wide range of salad items that include lentils, nuts and seeds.”

Dr Juliet Gray, company nutritionist at Harrison Catering Services, says caterers have an “enormous responsibility” to ensure that students and staff have the chance to choose healthy, well-balanced meals – particularly when feeding them 24/7.

“Many of us, especially young people, still fall short of the recommended five or more portions of vegetables and fruit each day,” says Juliet. “Providing these foods at every meal, offering as much variety as possible and making them easy to eat – cutting up fruit or offering raw vegetables as tasty salads and crudités – should be the number one priority.

“Two thirds of UK adults are overweight or obese and national statistics show that one in five children in reception and one in three children in year six are overweight or obese as well. This is linked to ever-increasing portion sizes and to eating too many high sugar, high fat foods and drinks, as well as low physical activity. High blood pressure and high blood cholesterol are associated with higher rates of heart disease and stroke – linked to excessive salt and saturated fat in food.”

Student input can make all the difference, as Cranleigh School’s executive head chef Jon Smith has experienced. He says: “Overall, the success of our kitchen is based on communication with the students themselves. We meet weekly with the senior prefects who give us excellent feedback from the pupil community. They put in lots of requests for favourite dishes too, especially for katsu curry. This particular group of students has diverse tastes and is very educated about food; they like our Thai fish burgers and our deli selection. Overall the children do tend to make healthy choices and so, within reason, we tend to give them what they want. We work on a three-week menu cycle which will always include something more adventurous as well as the favourite comfort food options and little extras that we get from our suppliers. The menu gets sent to the houses so that the pupils can choose what they would like to eat before they come into hall, which saves them time and helps them to plan. We also evaluate which options have been most or least popular and plan from there.”

The Brookwood Partnership Tring Park School for the Performing Arts W: Cranleigh School W: 


Dr Juliet Gray

How to cut down on sugar, salt and saturated fat – tips from Dr Juliet Gray 

  • Think about the sauces for main meals and desserts – do you really need to add cream or full-fat crème fraîche? Could you add Greek yoghurt instead? 
  • How much salt are you adding to pasta and rice? With a tasty sauce you can get away with adding a lot less or even none at all. We all need reminding to taste as we cook and to not always add salt because we have always done so!
  • Make sure that where you provide juices and soft drinks the portions are not too large – 150 millilitres now counts as a portion of juice. Students don’t need 500 millilitres. Always make sure that sugar-free, calorie-free drinks, milk (semi-skimmed or 1 percent fat) and water are available and easily accessible for all.
  • Read the labels. See how much sugar some breakfast cereals contain. Serve less of those ever-popular sugary cereals and more wholegrain cereals such as porridge, shredded wheat, Weetabix and unsweetened muesli

Harrison Catering Services W:

FRIMA's new VarioCooking Center

Capacity to bridge the gap

Catering equipment supplier FRIMA has launched a new VarioCooking Center in response to customer demand for a flexible, 50-litre unit.

The 112L is a two-pan unit, each with a capacity of 25 litres. Previous Frima two-pan units have 14 litre pans and, like the recently launched 112T, the new unit is a counter-top model that can be easily installed on the workbench, on a stand or elsewhere. Even small kitchens can benefit from its high capacity, multifunctional cooking abilities and the VarioCooking Center 112L is truly multifunctional: it can replace griddles, kettles, bratt pans, large pots and fryers and can be used to fry, deep fry, boil and confit.

The 112L’s two pans offer maximum flexibility, both in production and in à la carte. Chefs can boil pasta in one pan and cook steaks in the other, fry chips in one and create béchamel sauce in the other – the potential is vast. The 50-litre capacity provides sufficient frying surface and boiling capacity even at peak times. The height of the pan base is ergonomically designed to make it easy for chefs to work with, which is an important benefit compared to tilting pans or other multifunctional appliances.

"With the new 112L model, we are filling a gap in our product range, offering customers an even greater selection of VarioCooking Center Multificiency appliances,” says Michael Fuchs, chairman of the board of Frima International AG. “The new model is ideal for anyone needing the flexibility of two pans, but who has limited space, while also having to produce larger quantities during peak times."

The VarioCooking Center 112L achieves energy savings of up to 40 percent compared to conventional cooking appliances and cooks up to four times faster. The overnight cooking function creates additional capacity as it cooks without supervision, so food is ready in the morning when staff arrive. The integrated cooking intelligence ensures perfect cooking results: for example, pasta is automatically lifted from the water at the end of the cooking time, the unit will notify staff when pan-fried foods need turning and it regulates the temperature and timing to the precise degree and second so that food and liquids never burn, boil over or stick.

“Customers had been asking about a model that bridged the gap between the original, smaller 112 units and the larger 211 and 311 VarioCooking Centers, which have capacities of 100 and 150 litres respectively,” says Graham Kille, managing director of Frima UK. “Then, in 2015, Frima talked to 400 chefs across Europe and they confirmed the demand for the 50 litre model. However, they wanted the flexibility of the two pans – and so the 112L was created.”

For information and brochures, or to come to a free Cooking Live demonstration, call FRIMA UK on 0845 680 3981, email or visit


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