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Children are the future: how Cityserve is backing the soil association’s food for life initiative

Published: Thursday, 17th January 2019

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At Cityserve, we’ve always said it’s all about the kids.

As we enter 2019 there is more uncertainty than ever when it comes to pricing and availability of food, putting more pressure on those of us responsible for feeding our children.

Like most caterers, Cityserve has already experienced an increase of around 20% in costs when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Yet despite these growing costs we have managed to keep our prices as competitive as possible. This is no mean feat, but for us it is about far more than meal prices.

At Cityserve we put quality at the top of the agenda. As the Soil Association’s State of the Nation report highlights, keeping our children healthy has never been more important. The UK is currently the most obese country in Western Europe - one in 10 children in England is obese before they start school, rising to one in five by the time they leave school.

Without positive action, this will only get worse. With that in mind, we’re backing many of the observations and action points outlined in the Soil Association’s report. Many are initiatives we already put at the heart of what we do - such as our sugar reduction campaign launched last year - but we will be putting renewed focus on many to ensure that what we do really is ‘All About The Kids’.

Here are some of the ways we’re backing the Food For Life initiative and tackling some of the issues highlighted by the State of the Nation report:-

Let’s really hit that five-a-day

Fewer than one in 10 children meet the five-a-day target when it comes to fruit and veg, missing out on importance sources of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Alongside healthy, nutritionally-balanced menus packed with vegetables, Cityserve schools offer a tempting salad bar designed to encourage children to up their intake of veg. Fruit is always on offer and staff are trained to encourage children to think about their five-a-day. At Cityserve, we spend £12m on food and ensure that all food is not just School Food compliant, but locally-sourced and top quality.

There’s something fishy going on

Again, fewer than one in 10 children eat enough fish to meet dietary guidelines, missing out on all the nutrition it can provide. At Cityserve schools, fish is on the menu at least once a week, encouraging children to try it and make sure they meet dietary guidelines.

Mine’s a pack-up

Parents save £10 and around 50 minutes a week if they don’t have to make packed lunches for children receiving Universal Infant Free School Meals. We understand that this kind of thing is important, so we provide a packed lunch option for those children who don’t want a hot meal. It’s still school food compliant, so gives them all the nutrition they need, but also saves their parents time and money.

It’s about more than just the food

The report highlights that just 1.6% of school packed lunches meet the nutritional requirements of the School Food Standards. This isn’t parents’ fault - it’s incredibly difficult to mimic the diversity demanded by the standards in a packed lunch. Cityserve is here to help. While we can’t make pupils’ packed lunches at home for them, we can help educate parents and pupils on what should be included and were recently featured on the BBC for our work on lunchboxes. We also run cookery lessons with parents and children to show how easy and cheap it can be to cook healthy, nutritional and well-balanced meals in the home, as well as attending parents’ evening with taster posts showcasing the dishes we offer.

No more ‘race to the bottom’

The report calls for the Government to take steps to avoid a new ‘race to the bottom’ in school meals by ring fencing Universal Infant Free School Meal budgets and giving clear guidance to procurers that quality should always be given greater weighting than cost. Avoiding the ‘race to the bottom’ is something Cityserve has been talking about for a while. We firmly believe that it’s not always about the bottom line and will put quality ahead of everything else. That might not make us the cheapest, but it makes us the best - both nutritionally and in terms of the service we provide.

Technology helps

Keeping quality at the core is key to prioritising the health and wellbeing of our children. One way to make sure we can do that without making costs prohibitive is to make the system as efficient as possible. Efficiency means savings, better quality, and a better service. In 2019 we’re introducing Cityserve Pay, a new cashless payments and pre-ordering system powered by sQuid that will cut costs and administration time for schools, making it easier for them to manage catering and other school payments. As well as saving Cityserve schools around £5,000 a year, Cityserve Pay will also help in the drive to promote healthy eating, increasing meal uptake as well as improving schools’ environmental impact by significantly reducing food waste.