Every mouthful counts in children’s nutrition

SPONSORED: For one or more meals a day, a child’s dietary health lies in school caterers’ hands, says Amanda Ursell, nutritionist to CH&CO Independent

With the never-ending supply of contradictory dietary advice regularly hitting the headlines, it can be easy to dismiss the world of nutrition as simply not knowing what on earth we’re talking about.

But we do. We know that nutritional science is just that, a science. If you delve into the data and research that backs guidance on healthy eating, it’s robust, enduring and global.

There are few subjects on the worldwide stage where government advice transcends the politics of the country or party in power. What constitutes ‘good nutrition’ is one of them. From China and Canada to India, Italy or even France and England, we’re all singing from the same evidence-based hymn book. A book that shows how a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, wholegrain carbohydrates, lean protein and ‘good’ oils is time and again associated with the best short- and long-term health outcomes.

Chefs’ nutrition training

Although nutrition plays a crucial role in optimising health throughout life, there are glaring gaps in sound nutrition education and training among those who arguably need it most; this includes chefs.

Those at the helm in school kitchens must understand that for one or more meals a day, the health of a child’s diet lies firmly in their hands – that what they plan and prepare can profoundly affect a child’s physical growth and emotional wellbeing, and not forgetting their performance in the classroom and on the sports field.

CH&CO Independent invests in ongoing nutrition training for all chefs. Our bespoke courses help them understand how every mouthful of food they prepare counts and give them the tools to make them matter.

Armed with the correct theoretical knowledge, chefs can convert theory into practice using their honed culinary skills and individual flair, working their alchemy to create meals and snacks that children want to eat and will look forward to coming back for more.

As any parent or carer knows, encouraging children to delight in tucking into five a day or opt for wholegrain cereals is not always an easy task. To give our chefs a helping hand, we combine great-tasting food with plenty of eye appeal and fun messaging that nudges children and teenagers along the way. We’ve proven, through social norms research in the dining room, that this subtle combination works.

Specialist knowledge

Studying National Diet Nutritional Survey data allows us to help address common nutritional gaps at certain times in children’s lives. We all recognise that smaller, younger children have differing energy, vitamin and mineral requirements, as well as differing likes and dislikes, compared with teenagers during adolescence and we work hard to match meals to needs.

We have a responsibility to communicate appropriately, and to the right people, about particular nutritional issues.

Assemblies for parents, for instance, are a great forum to highlight Department of Health advice for universal vitamin D supplementation during winter months to help avoid tiredness and poor bone development. Or to discuss vitamin B12 fortification or supplementation in children who choose vegan styles of eating; how frequently dipping intakes of iron in teenagers can affect memory, stress and concentration; and the need for fibre-rich foods to support gut bacteria, which may, in turn, affect everything from the strength of our immune systems to mood and sleep patterns.

Our in-house dietetic expertise means that we also understand how living with a diagnosis of, for example, Type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, phenylketonuria and food intolerances, can be stressful and emotional for families and children alike. Being able to confidently work with school nurses, children, parents and teachers to ensure personal healthcare plans are adhered to, is a vital part of our work, helping children to cope with and, most importantly, enjoy a normal school day.

So too, is tailor-making menus for pupils with demanding sporting or physical commitments. Or helping to prepare sixth formers for the challenges of cooking and caring for their own nutrition when they leave home. We relish and rise to challenges, supporting in-house school experts to provide what works for their students; on every level.

It’s not about the headlines

For us, great nutrition is not about keeping up with the headlines. It’s not about contorting our offering to fit with the latest unfounded diet fad. Great nutrition is in our DNA.

It’s about delivering the best meals we can to help children be and feel the best they can, today, tomorrow and in their future lives.

To learn more, please visit chandcogroup.com/education.

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