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How to bring nutritional know-how into school classrooms

Published on : 10/26/22
Reading time : 6 min
  • A new programme from Independents by Sodexo is bringing nutritional know-how into school classrooms. Offering free interactive sessions that are designed by experts and delivered by trained chefs, the programme encourages children to make more informed food choices.


    A nutrition-focussed partnership formed in response to research

    Sodexo commissioned independent research by Business in the Community to uncover what matters most to our Schools and Universities clients, and what they expect from a catering partner. They told us that social value is a priority with health and wellbeing topping the agenda. There was also a strong desire for more nutrition education for children and young people.

    This insight led Sodexo to form the Healthy Futures Partnership with the British Nutrition Foundation with the first call to action to review an established Powering Performance nutrition education programme for students in our Independent senior schools. This involved developing a unique toolkit for our culinary team, which includes the Powering Performance pillar framework and nutritional guardrails. These enable our team to create dishes using 'hero' ingredients and communicate their nutrient and health benefit, help empower students to make informed food and drink choices to support their nutritional needs.

    Powering Performance was successfully relaunched in 40 independent schools in 2021, and now the programme is moving into an exciting next phase, taking our food from the kitchen into classroom learning space through a new programme called Chefs in the Classroom.


    Developing Chefs in the Classroom

    With young people today more aware of the relationship between their food choices and wellbeing, Chefs in the Classroom is designed to engage students and other members of the school community and to increase awareness and knowledge around food, cooking and healthier and more sustainable diets. The programme aims to take the nutrition learnings behind Powering Performance dishes from the dining room into the classroom, explaining the nutrition benefit in more detail to inspire students to make healthier food choices in the dining room and beyond. 

    The nutrition education has been designed to be relevant to what’s important to young people today and to link to the health and wellbeing agenda and school curriculum. Interactivity is key – Sodexo chefs showcase their food skills, nutrition knowledge and passion for produce during live cooking demonstrations. This helps pupils understand how ingredient selection and different cooking processes can enhance taste, texture and the nutritional content of food. It can also support a better understanding of why the Powering Performance dishes they are seeing in their dining rooms have nutritional benefit.


    Equipping chefs with advanced nutritional knowledge

    Before our chefs undertake Chefs in the Classroom, they must complete an online nutrition education training programme created by the British Nutrition Foundation uniquely for Sodexo, of which over 100 chefs have already successfully completed and passed to date.  

    Once a chef has completed the online Healthy Futures Partnership certified training programme they will have been provided with key information to more confidently engage with pupils around the importance of the food they eat. This includes increasing knowledge and awareness of healthier and more sustainable diets, as well as knowledge of 'hero' ingredients and associated nutrients and the role they play to keep us healthy.

    This model benefits our chefs by bring their skills to life in a meaningful way that can help enhance student wellbeing. It is also beneficial to schools as it can enable them to make plans to engage their students in important nutrition education for the year ahead.  

    The Chefs in the Classroom initiative offers three activities – each is focussed on creating one simple, tasty dish and all support the dietary messages within the Government’s Eat Well Guide.

    The interactive format – where pupils actively take part in the sessions, tasting the dishes and putting questions to our chefs – proved a hit during an early pilot. Our chefs are equipped with training toolkits and guidance so they have the skills to can work independently on-site without needing head office or external nutrition support. This approach improves the capabilities and skill set of the onsite team and creates a lasting legacy. 


    Creating a lasting legacy of positive change in schools

    In the Chefs in the Classroom pilot, 95% of students rated it excellent and 5% very good. One student said it was "very interactive, we learnt a lot about healthy diet and had some delicious food". Another said that "questions were answered well, and I am now more confident in planning food choices".

    Head of Health and Wellbeing for Sodexo Schools & Universities UK, Rosemary Molinari, stressed the value of having trained chefs delivering the demos in classrooms. “Chefs develop the ‘know-how’ and the ‘show-how’ through a collaborative approach to nutrition education,” she said. “We are training our on-site chefs so schools can use these resources for free to gain meaningful and measurable outcomes that parents and students seek. This can really add value to a school’s ethos of health and wellbeing, and will help to leave a lasting legacy of positive change.” 

    This is a point endorsed by Jane Jarrett​, Director of Marketing and Admissions at Reading Blue Coat School, who was involved in this summer’s pilot. She praised the "positive collaborative approach" and said Chefs in the Classroom helped to bring Powering Performance to life.

    “When pupils get to the dining room, they are hungry and in a rush to be served, they just want a plate of food rather than thinking about the nutritional value of the dishes on offer,” she said. “Seeing the pupils’ reaction in the lesson and the hands-on aspect in the kitchen was encouraging. Seeing the kitchen also gave our pupils a greater understanding of the challenges that come with feeding so many people at lunch time and a great deal more respect for everyone in our catering team.

    Chefs in the Classroom demonstrates a positive collaborative approach and should be supported by teachers. I will be reporting back to our teaching staff, especially those directly involved with our health and wellbeing programmes, and encouraging them to ensure we make the best use of it in our school. 

    Jane Jarrett​, Director of Marketing and Admissions at Reading Blue Coat School


    "At present, our school is unable to include food and nutrition classes in the formal curriculum, but knowing we can tap into our Sodexo chef is a real plus for us, and is great marketing!", she added. 

    Teachers who have attended the pilot sessions also offered positive feedback, with comments including:

    “A good mix of information and practical that kept the children engaged. Practically seeing the food cooked and how simple it was to do will be helpful for the children.”

    "The level of tuition was age appropriate and the hands-on experience was the highlight. Students really enjoyed their kitchen experience, and trying foods that they would normally say they dislike."

    Our long-term vision is to embed Chefs in the Classroom across all schools, and share expertise with other sites such as preparatory schools. The programme has been designed to encourage our chefs to share best practices and focus on their continuous professional development at a time when nutrition education is increasingly recognised as important. All learning resources such as lesson plans and guides will be based on facts and food science to enhance Sodexo's Powering Performance programme as we continue in our mission to take food from the dining hall into the classroom and meet the objectives of the Healthy Futures Partnership. 


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    - Powering Performance and Chefs in the Classroom together reflect Sodexo’s commitment to social value, outlined in the Social Impact Pledge, our ethical manifesto for leading the way to improve quality of life for society and our planet.

    - If you are interested in Chefs in the Classroom sessions for your school*, speak to your Sodexo catering manager or chef. 

    - Download The Eatwell Guide.   

    *Only available to Independents by Sodexo schools. The next Healthy Futures Partnership programme will focus on state secondary schools.