Ready, steady, cook!

Amanda Ursell, CH&CO Independent’s consultant nutritionist, looks at how rising food costs are driving continued sustainability efforts

As widely publicised shortages of fertiliser and animal feed combine with soaring freight and shipping costs, we all have felt the effects of price rises in everything from meat, dairy and eggs to produce and products that contain these foods as ingredients.

While we have no magic wand to solve the rising cost of living, which comes as an immediate result, we are within our business as caterers doing all we can to help ameliorate the situation. Procurement teams, for example, strive to lock in prices and agree price holds, while reviewing core commodities and rationalising pack sizes.

We are focusing ever more on sourcing British seasonal produce and forward-buying stock, identifying possible substitute lines for key products at risk and working to minimise cost impacts of deliveries.

Such strategies help us to help you navigate the economic difficulties facing us all.

Our kitchen teams, meanwhile, are finding imaginative and on-the-spot ways of dealing with deliveries that arrive late or that arrive minus pre-ordered ingredients. Chefs and cooks are thinking on their feet, likening their daily task to a real-life version of the 1990s hit television series Ready Steady Cook.

As one of our head chefs commented, “We often now sit with our client to discuss and agree on last-minute menu changes, using the ingredients we have at our fingertips. In many ways, this process has strengthened this relationship as we work together and in partnership with them to ensure a nutritious, delicious and seamless meal service.”

We are, in addition, pushing forward in our drive to develop an ever more sustainable menu to help address climate change. This could not be timelier, as researchers from Oxford University recently revealed that sustainable menus are not just good news for the planet but can help to slash food bills by up to a third.

They came to this conclusion having compared the cost of seven sustainable diets to those typically currently consumed in the UK, other parts of Western Europe, the US and Australia.

Zero waste porridge pancakes by CH&CO Independent


Using the World Bank’s International Comparison Programme, the academics, writing in The Lancet medical journal, discovered that while vegan diets were the most affordable and reduced food costs by up to 33% in these countries, vegetarian diets came a close second and flexitarian diets, which contained some but less meat and dairy, were still almost 15% less expensive.

As Dr Marco Springmann, a key academic involved in the study, observed; “When scientists like me advocate for environmentally friendly eating, it is often said that we’re sitting in our ivory towers, promoting something that is financially out of reach for most people. This study shows it’s quite the opposite. These diets could be better for your bank balance as well as the planet.”

It is this last point, which schools especially have the most wonderful opportunity to embrace. By their nature, they are, of course, full to the brim of the very people who are perhaps most receptive to such messaging.

As Prince William pointed out during his address at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee concert in The Mall, on 4 June this year: “Taking better care of our world is a cause which is spearheaded by an amazing and united generation of young people across the world,” concluding with the inciteful observation: “they won’t accept the status quo; they won’t accept that change is too difficult to deliver.”

For schools and caterers, this means that we have a truly golden or, perhaps more appropriately, platinum opportunity to work together to change menus in a way that will not only help to make financial ends meet, but will just as vitally provide the perfect opportunity to teach children about the link between sustainable eating and both planetary and human health.

When delivering assemblies on this subject, we constantly hear pupils of all ages ‘getting it’ and wanting to support sustainable menu changes within their school dining rooms and beyond.

Chefs within our business are brimming with ideas of how in practice we can achieve this. As development chef Guy Adams explains: “Minimising food waste is a vital part of our push in achieving a more sustainable approach to our food service. Owen Hurley, our head of food operations, uses his expertise in the art of ‘réchauffé’, regularly wowing pupils with dishes such as watermelon skin chutney, banana peel curry and paratha bread using porridge, which would otherwise have been thrown away. We also utilise broccoli stalks, using them in casseroles and curries and incorporate cauliflower leaves in tasty stir fries, which pupils love.”

Guy continues: “We draw, too, on the wide range of skills of our company chefs to create dishes using more plant-based protein sources. Kamaldeep Singh, for example, previously sous chef at the Savoy Hotel, has revealed how we can rustle up world-class vegetable bhuna and chickpea and lentil tikka dahl curries, which school pupils embrace for both their flavour and sustainability credentials. And we have been lucky to work with plant-based expert, chef Adrian Smith, whose enthusiasm for alternative protein sources has been a huge inspiration.”

The current fiscal situation in which we find ourselves will continue to be a struggle in the foreseeable future, but we know that, by working together, we can support each other through these difficult times and benefit pupil and planetary wellbeing alike.

You might also like: CH&CO receives ‘phenomenal’ response from new ‘From the Kitchen’ campaign

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