Feature: A class act

We speak to Clare Lovett, managing director of Relish School Food, about the state of the sector at this pivotal time...

Why did you think of the findings of the recent National Food Strategy?

Naturally, as an independent contract caterer to primary and secondary schools, I was especially focused on the areas relevant to children and the report's recommendation for The Department of Education to launch a new Eat and Learn initiative for schools, aimed at children aged three to18 years. It recommends five core elements: curriculum changes, accreditation, inspection, funding, and recruitment and training. 

The report states that changes to the curriculum are needed because “food education remains a second-class subject”. At Relish, we believe we have a duty of care to ensure our young customers are fuelled with nutrition for physical growth, mental development and sustainability throughout afternoon school. We therefore load our main meals with vegetables and nutrients that all comply with the School Food Standards.

The report also advises on ‘sensory food education’. This is something that we already do, because we feel we have a responsibility to broaden the food experiences and extend the tasting palates of the children. 

In terms of accreditation, the recommendation is that schools should adopt a “whole-school approach”, by integrating food into the school life, while working with accreditation schemes such as Food for Life. This is an excellent idea. We already work with Food for Life to improve school food and education. We run growing clubs, from seeds on window sills and mini-greenhouses by dining room windows, to outdoor planting spaces. 

The report suggests that OFsted include inspections on the quality of food and nutrition lessons with the same rigour they do for English or maths. We’d be delighted to invite OFsted to join us for lunch at one of our schools, or indeed at our hugely popular cookery clubs, healthy living days, assembly talks or at a parent masterclass. 

The recommendation is that the government doubles the funding for the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme from £40.4m to £80.8m, with the money going directly to schools. Nothing more to say here, but yes, absolutely. 

What could caterers be doing more of to help prevent child poverty?
In April, footballer Marcus Rushford encouraged the government to providing free school meals for children during the summer holidays. No child should ever go hungry and the government should be responsible for making provisions to ensure the health and wellbeing of children all year round. At Relish, irrespective of financial circumstance, no child will go hungry on our watch. 

What are your most popular meals in schools?
Our curried lamb meatballs with a coconut curried sauce is an absolute favourite with the children. In the warmer months, the children like to make paella with Stefan, our head of operations, who has a huge paella pan that serves over 60 people. They love to help make the dish and use the big paddle to stir the pan. However, their favourite part is watching the mussels open as they cook. It is wonderful to see them so engaged. 

What is the single biggest issue currently affecting school meals?
The coronavirus. The provision of support for children outside of term time has been contentious to say the least and must be addressed as a matter of urgency. 

What one tip would you offer on getting your school food provision right?
Keep communicating – with clients, pupils, parents and suppliers. 

What are your plans for the future?
With our Relish-OPS technology, we’re changing the way our menu module works to deliver even greater flexibility. For example, we could focus a day on vegan or plant-based options and allow children to build and pack their own lunchboxes, all with the use of smart technology.

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