The EDUcatering Forum: They made me do it, Sir!

The EDUcatering Forum: They made me do it, Sir!

The EDUcatering Forum is back for 2018 and will take a very different look at how we can put a stop to childhood obesity, writes Morag Wilson

The government is finally taking action to tackle childhood obesity, yet school caterers are continually being pressured to offer pupils more choice at the servery counter, even at primary school. The EDUcatering Forum will bring together experts from inside and outside the school catering industry to discuss ways in which, through nudge behaviour and food education, we can encourage children to reach for the avocado dips and not the chips.

‘The Power of Positive Psychology: reshaping children’s bad food habits’ is this year’s theme and we have taken a different approach to our discussions, challenging the school catering industry to look at why children crave the bad stuff rather than choosing the things that are good for them not because they’re made to, but because they want to.

School caterers work so hard to prepare food that is delicious as well as nutritious, but the school food standards (rightly so), prevent them from loading dishes with sugar and fats. The alluring smells of calorific food tempt them onto the high street, and therein lies a key indicator for rising childhood obesity.

Obviously, this isn’t the full problem. School caterers only provide meals 190 days out of the year, give or take, but as the government recognised in chapter 2 of the Childhood Obesity Action Plan, “schools have a fundamental role to play in helping equip children with the knowledge they need to make healthy choices for themselves, and in creating a healthy environment for children to learn and play”.

School caterers can play a massive role in food education. Not just in the classroom, but right at the servery. Encouraging pupils to try something at the servery can be a challenge, but what if, with the right approach, a child will pick something that isn’t disguised as pizza and try something new out of choice.

I came across a very interesting experiment at Swansea University recently. The catering team had been totally inspired by a day course from the Humane Society International learning all about vegan food and how to create beautiful plates of vegan food from store cupboard vegan ingredients (who knew there were so many kinds of tofu?).

They put a vegan dish on every day in the refectory and placed it first on the counter, followed by a vegetarian dish, fish dish, and finally at the end of the counter, the meat dish. They didn’t shout about the vegan dish aside from a label stating what it contained. Sales of meat-based dishes fell and vegan and veggie dish sales rose notably, most probably because students were choosing it because it looked tasty, despite it being meat-free.

It’s one example of ‘nudge psychology’, a topic introduced in last month’s issue, whereby a customer is manipulated into making the ‘right decision’.

Our opening keynote at the EDUcatering Forum will explore this idea in more detail, from which the day’s speakers will showcase examples of how they have deplored nudge, or highlight the reasons why it is needed to prevent rising childhood obesity.

Dr Jeremy Leach, a former environmental health practitioner, has trained, advised and assisted many organisations from the public and private sectors on how to use insights from the behavioural sciences to improve the customer experience, improve effectiveness and improve compliance. He will be providing examples of how nudge works in practice in the local authorities where has worked.

The Forum will also welcome Jo Ralling from the Food Foundation, who will explain the mission of Peas Please, the campaign to urge more people eating vegetables, and how this could be achieved through a vegetable marketing board, targeting parents to get more veg into their children’s diets.

But how can we implement some of this practice in school food and influencing children’s behaviour so they make healthier choices?

Meg Longworth, head of nutrition and public health at Chartwells, will highlight some of the programmes that the company runs in schools, from a nudge pilot to the new Beyond the Chartwells Kitchen, which takes a holistic approach to nutrition, food and health education.

We will also hear from Amanda Ursell, nutritionist at CH&CO, about the methods it is taking across independent and maintained schools, with case studies from Peter McKenna at Principals by CH&CO.

Michael Hales, chair of LACA and managing director of the new arms-length Juniper Ventures from Newham Council, will detail how it is working to reduce childhood obesity in this diverse London borough, and explain what LACA is doing to support school caterer’s aims.

My recent trip to Scotland highlighted how school caterers in England could learn a lot from the catering service in Scottish schools, and the EDUcatering Forum will provide a platform for Keith Breasley, chair of ASSIST FM, to talk about Inch by Inch for Scotland, the national campaign – run by the school catering sector – to combat childhood obesity through roadshows, cooking videos and simple exercise messages.

Back by popular demand will be our cooking demonstration, building up appetites just before the lunch break! This year we welcome Park Community School head teacher Chris Anders and head chef Steven Cross. While Chris will give some background to the wonderful food education that goes on at the school, Steven will be cooking up some treats direct from the school lunch menu.

And while the school catering industry might point to the other eating occasions that they can’t control as reasons why it is difficult to influence children’s diets, influences and choices, two children’s cookery authors are working to change that by reaching out to children as young as two-years-old.

Sally Brown and Kate Morris are two of the seven founders of Flavour School, the charity that brings the concept of taste and sensory education to schools. The Flavour School project aims to familiarise children with the foods we want them to be eating as adults, meaning lots of exposure to vegetables, fruit and whole grains.

Sally and Kate practice this method every week with pre-schoolers at their cook school, The Purple Kitchen, and have introduced their ideas in their latest TV series, My World Kitchen on CBeebies. They will be at the EDUcatering Forum to explain more about their method and how these nudge tactics in early life could very possibly form good food habits long into adulthood.

To book your ticket at the EDUcatering Forum for just £20, visit

EDUcatering Forum

When: Wednesday 28th November 2018

Where: Haberdashers’ Hall, London

Cost: £20