A partnership to improve children's health

As executive development chef at Pabulum my role involves advising and guiding the business on legislation, developing the menus and recipes, understanding the latest health and nutrition advice and overseeing the training of all our chefs.
Jack Sykes

There’s always much debate around who has a part to play in the health of young people. Are parents to blame for the increase in childhood obesity? Should food brands be held responsible for high sugar products and unethical marketing? Do school teachers do enough to educate their pupils on a balanced diet?

As a nation we need to stop blaming each other and work together. Governments spend millions on health campaigns but for me it’s really simple. The relationship between food and young people starts very early in life. If children are only offered healthy food this is all they will understand. As school chefs our role is to promote and educate pupils about good food from that very first day at school.

When pupils move into KS2 that’s when the engagement really steps up as children begin to make more decisions themselves. School chefs need to be part of the school team. Children at Pabulum schools are seeing aspirational people behind the counters; inspiring chefs in tall white hats, serving food that is packed full of nutrients. Healthy is seen as ‘normal’ as it’s what they’ve been used to since day one.

At Pabulum we are delivering compliant, robust menus that fit all multi-cultural societies. We cater for 56 Primary Schools but have over 30 menu variations to meet the needs of all young people. However our menus have one common ground. They are all nutritionally balanced, enriched with a mix of nutrients. We’re doing a huge amount of work to reduce saturates, salt and sugar, but not because of a government initiative. Simply because it’s the right thing to do to help prevent obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity and tooth decay.

Some parents say “My child won’t try new foods”. However by introducing new things in bite sized chunks it seem less daunting for them. We’ll display tasters on counters whilst children wait in the queue and our playground tasters allow parents and pupils to try dishes together. It’s about getting engagement on every level.

What’s vital is that school chefs are part of the school team. I’ve not got a teaching qualification but I’ve done assemblies on healthy eating, run lessons on getting value for money when buying food, and talked to pupils about where fruit and vegetables come from.

Teaching cooking in school is absolutely vital for future health. At 8 years old I had my own food processor but I didn’t cook at school until I was 12. Creating savoury dishes is really empowering for children. They are never going to fully understand about food and healthy eating unless we show them cooking basics.

Over the last few years there has been a real shift in the focus school meals receive. It has not only moved up the agenda in the eyes of the Government but other sectors, such as care homes, hospitals and prisons are looking at what the school chefs are doing for public health.

Rather than blame someone else for the rising obesity crisis it’s vital parents, schools, food suppliers and chefs work together so our next generation can have a healthy relationship with food that will last them a lifetime.