From those working in procurement to the catering staff, all staff in the education industry should have a full understanding of nutritional information for any ingredients being supplied or served. This responsibility ensures all pupils and teachers are kept safe and healthy, alongside having a good amount of nutritionally appropriate meal choices.

Here, we’ll cover the importance of catering staff learning about additive, nutritional and allergy information across the education industry. Additionally, we’ll discuss the importance of considering allergies and additives in food procurement for education and the duty of care that must be upheld.

Nutritional standards in educational catering

Before we dive into the importance of learning about nutrition in education catering, you should have a fundamental understanding of nutrients. Put simply, nutrients are components of food that are essential for health. Examples include vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, water, and carbohydrates. Everybody needs to have a good balance of these nutrients, but it’s particularly important that children are given appropriate nutrition for their age since this can have a huge impact on their current and future health.

When nutritional standards of children are met by educational caterers, it can reduce health issues and boost productivity, mood and mental health. In the UK, we have school food standards which outline nutritional requirements for food served in all schools. The standards are in place to ensure children are provided with healthy and balanced meals while at school.

Why is it important for caterers to understand nutritional content?

So, why do caterers need to gain an understanding of the nutritional content of ingredients? Firstly, it helps them get to grips with what their suppliers are offering. This can help make sure they’re providing the best quality food for pupils.

Reading a nutrition label on food packaging

A better understanding of nutritional information can also support caterers in planning healthy, beneficial meals. The more you know about what’s in your ingredients, the easier it can be to spot anything that could be swapped for a healthier alternative. For example, foods with additives should always be avoided wherever possible, and you can use your knowledge to pick ingredients high in nutritional value that are just as tasty.

Healthy food options for students

Now that we’ve covered the importance of understanding nutritional content in catering, it’s time to put it into context. Here, we’re giving you an overview of how to use your knowledge to create healthier food options for your students. From the most beneficial food groups to the types of foods that should be kept to a minimum, check out our handy list below.

  • Starchy foods: Foods high in starch, including bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes should be included in meals since they’re a key source of energy and B vitamins.
  • Fruit and veg: A variety of fruit and veg options should be offered to help children hit their five-a-day. These food groups are a good source of essential vitamins, minerals and fibre.
  • Milk and dairy: Dairy ingredients like eggs and cheese provide rich sources of energy, protein, calcium, vitamin A and riboflavin. Milk can also be included here since it can have the same nutritional value. 
  • Meat and fish: A good selection of meat and fish options can offer protein and essential minerals, including iron and zinc.
  • Foods high in fat and sugar: These types of foods should be kept to a minimum for students. Instead, we recommend offering healthier options wherever possible.

Portion sizes are also crucial for ensuring students are getting the correct amount of nutrition. Therefore, understanding and following portion guides like the BNF 5-5-3-2 guide can be helpful for education caterers.

chef standing behind full lunch service station

Importance of catering to allergies in educational catering

One of the most important reasons for catering to allergies in education catering is to ensure you’re meeting all the relevant legislation. For instance, the 2014 Family Act makes it a legal duty for schools to accommodate pupils with medical conditions, including food allergies. These pupils should have an Individual Healthcare Plan agreed between the school and the parents to help keep them safe and healthy.

Food Information Regulations also require all school caterers to show allergen ingredient information for the food they serve. Not only does this provide pupils, teachers and parents with all the information they need to choose appropriate meals, but it also improves safety for everybody in these settings. Caterers must be trained to identify and mitigate risks when it comes to allergies as part of their duty of care.

From understanding the basics of nutrition to the importance of considering allergies, our guide is here to give caterers and suppliers in the education sector all the information they need. For more insights and advice on catering in education and care industries, check out the EF-group blog.