School Food Standards - a fresh food update

Now that we are delivering menus in all our business that are compliant to the “School Food Standards”, Pabulum commissioned a survey with YouGov to see what the word “fresh” meant, and the results indicated real confusion amongst adults.
Pupils in a field of cows

Around half (49%) said it could mean bought from a local market that morning, and 47% said straight from the farm; 40% thought “fresh” could be used to describe home grown, while 38% said food that is prepared in the kitchen from raw ingredients such as meat, fish and vegetables.

Just 10% thought the word applied to items on meat and vegetable counters from a local branded supermarket, while 15% thought that food that is frozen at the point it is caught or picked, e.g. fish or peas, could be described as fresh.

The reason we undertook this research is we were delighted to be awarded the Soil Association’s highest Food For Life Catering mark Gold Standard using 94% fresh food in our Cypress cluster of schools in Croydon. We needed to explore parents understanding of some of the key food and health phrases to help us promote school menus and our dishes. We have an aspiration to achieve Gold Standard menus across our schools and now we have confidence we can achieve this by only using fresh food and quality ingredients.

At Pabulum health and nutrition are a key part of what we do, and now that we have a strong team of development chefs, and our Pabulum Cookery School, we recognise there is still more work we need to do in the sector and promote our “fresh” food approach to schools, students and their families.

The term “made from fresh ingredients” met with a wide range of answers with the highest of 39% saying it meant freshly prepared and 8% seasonal. Despite a wide range of options to choose from almost a quarter (24%) said that the statements provided did not meet their understanding of the term.

The understanding of “healthy” also varied greatly. When respondents were offered the chance to tick a range of options, less than two thirds (60%) of people thought “healthy” meant the food was low in salt, fat and sugar, 54% said it will form part of a balanced diet, 49% thought “healthy” was good for you and 41% said it meant free from additives such as colourings. Only 39% thought “healthy” related to having their five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.

The term “balanced diet” also caused a difference of opinion with just half of respondents (52%) saying the term meant eating a variety of foods but none in excess. 20% said it was taking regular exercise and eating a range of different foods and just 5% of respondents said a balanced diet was eating your five-a-day of fruit and vegetables.

Just over 7 in 10 (71%) of those respondents said they would prefer their child to have a school meal that had a good selection of menu items that are prepared from mainly fresh ingredients that will help the child be more attentive in class, while just 19% said they would prefer to send them with a packed lunch so they know they have something they will eat.

So whilst this is encouraging news particularly when Key Stage 1 children are maybe having a school meal for the first time, we still need to work harder to create awareness with parents on our fresh ingredients and how we opt for quality ingredients.