Insight from the experts

Does Generation Z have a different relationship with food to earlier generations? Brookwood’s Sue Parfett finds out

As mentioned in last month’s article, my food at school sometimes was pretty awful. Of course things are very different nowadays. What is the same, however, is how our relationship with food changes as we grow up. I, along with my school friends, often discussed what we ate, how much we ate and when we ate. The same, I am sure, can be said about every generation after us. But perhaps, it is more prominent for what is known as Generation Z – or Gen Z if you are nearer that age group than me!

Born just before the millennium, Gen Z has grown up with all information and communication by screen. They only know financial turmoil and care about traditional values; watching their money and valuing the environment. They toddled around coffee shops and restaurants with their parents and are concerned about their impact on the world.

On a recent visit to St. Catherine’s School in Twickenham, a girls’ school with pupils aged from 3 to 18, we spoke to a number of pupils about their food. We talked about how the high street can influence their choices when it comes to the food they like. And of course, the high street is a lot different now to what was available in my day. So it got me thinking about how this generation presents a new dynamic in terms of how they respond to everyday life. They are ever more discerning and conscious about the world around them.

At Brookwood, our approach has always been to ensure pupils develop a healthy relationship with food, and this goes for both boys and girls. Senior pupils want to take control of what they eat and have a say about what they would like to see on the menu. Like many schools, a food committee meets with the catering team to discuss the food and future menu ideas. Lunch today comprised three types of fish and I was delighted to hear that the girls were saying what they had, was equivalent to what they would experience at well-known high-street restaurants.

It’s becoming widely recognised that different ages and genders respond differently to food types

With Gen Z growing up, there is a need for us as caterers to change with them. A group of sixth formers told me how having a choice of a light bite, something to grab and go, or a main meal ensured that everyone was being catered for and it met their needs as to their studies or sports activities that day.

Talking to Headmistress, Sister Paula Thomas, about their sports activities, she told me: “Some of our girls are rowing on the river up to six times a week, it is essential that they get the energy and nutrition needed for their stamina. The girls really welcome the opportunity to talk to the catering team about the food – this often includes what they’ve seen on the high street.”

It is becoming well recognised that different age groups and genders respond to food differently. That as they grow, their needs and wants in regards to food change. Younger pupils need an assisted lunch with plainer food. This helps to ensure they are getting a nutritious lunch and foods they recognise. Subtle things like placing individual elements on a plate also helps with a slow introduction to new food, textures and tastes. In addition, linking in with the school’s PSHE lessons helps to connect their learning to their eating.  

After my visit, I drove through the town centre and pondered what the high street will be like when the young girls I met today are sixth formers. As always, trends will evolve. Our role, I am sure, will become more educational and assist with performance in class and on the sports field – it might just be presented differently.

Sue Parfett is Managing Partner of independent schools’ caterer, The Brookwood Partnership, part of CH&Co Group


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