School food culture is hot topic right now in a move to engage schools with public health and promote well-being. If children and ultimately parents understand more about food, nutrition and the value of the dining experience the effect could be huge. When I think back to my days at school in the 70’s and 80’s I recall occasional cooking lessons and those traditional school dinners of casseroles, roasts and sponge puddings with custard. Moving on 30 years just imagine a school that embraces food as an essential part of the school curriculum, culture and ethos.


What would a modern school with a fresh approach to food really look like? Imagine a classroom with a fully stocked teaching kitchen and a full-time chef who teaches each class at least once a week to deliver cooking and nutrition through and across the school curriculum. The school could write and publish their own recipe book and develop their own You Tube cooking channel. They could create a school garden stocked with herbs, fruit, salad leaves, an outdoor teaching classroom and greenhouse. How about a full-time gardener to develop this area and work with the children? This could even be taken a step further and the school could take on a local allotment that the gardener and children work on. Produce could be sold by the children to local restaurants and once a week at a local farmers market to generate income to develop the school food culture further. The garden could also contain chickens and bees. Older children could be taught bee-keeping and honey could also be sold locally to generate income.


Sounds so ideal and perfect but in reality would that really work? I have visited many schools through my work as a teacher, education consultant and The Food Teacher and until recently I have never come across a school that develops food in such an holistic sense. The great news is this sort of school does exist and there are some amazing leaders who are inspiring change in our schools. Charlton Manor Primary in Greenwich London do all of the above and are true champions of food culture. The Head Teacher, Tim Baker, has identified the most significant impact on behaviour, team-work and support for the practical learner which has made the school a calmer, happier and progressive place to be. They truly are an amazing school and don’t identify barriers but rather look for opportunities and solutions to enable them achieve all they have to date.


Charlton Manor haven’t stopped at just developing the curriculum. There have been negotiations between the Head Teacher and the school catering provider to raise the quality of the school food and 90% of pupils now opt for school meals. Their full-time catering chef incorporates meat-free Mondays into the weekly schedule, provides a range of fresh salad options daily, bakes home made sourdough and prepares a vast selection of fruit. The soil association’s gold catering mark has been achieved with ease. To engage children and develop the lunchtime experience, the school use small round tables that sit 4 at a time. As the lunch is so fantastic teachers enjoy free meals with the children and enhance the social experience of lunchtime. Children collect a plate as they enter the dining room and are served their dinner. All tables are set by junior school children that serve as waiters throughout lunch. They help pour water, encourage children to eat up their vegetables, serve pudding/fruit, wipe tables down and reset tables as and when necessary. Parents and local elderly residents are invited in each week to share the experience with children. Aside from lunchtimes the school also offer breakfast to children and a community café after school and on Saturday mornings, which the children run.


External links are also established with chefs, food producers and suppliers to talk about cooking, nutrition, developing and selling food products and the links with health. With such outstanding practice in place this school shares their good news and offers other schools training, curriculum material and opportunities to visit. Such opportunities extend internationally and school staff also have the opportunity to learn about education abroad and food in other cultures through exchange trips which have included China and Europe.


The Head Teacher, Tim Baker explains that, “Adopting this approach has had an impact beyond our expectations with children really feeling part of the community. We have taken a number of pupils from different schools with serious behaviour issues. Within a very short time they have felt valued and quickly we see their poor behaviour change, adopting a sense of responsibility as they understand that they do have a place within the community. Added to this the practical approach to learning supports their predominantly kinaesthetic learning style and they find they achieve in areas in which they had been failing impacting positively on their self-esteem and confidence.”


This school has a truly exemplary approach to food and their work is clearly making a difference for so many children. If school leaders just adopted some of the practice modelled by Charlton Manor Primary School the impact of developing food culture could be far-reaching and hugely beneficial for health.


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