APPETITE FOR EDUCATION
Catering for over five hundred people a day requires military precision. Luckily, at St Francis Xavier School the kitchen is run by Mr Thomas. With twenty five years’ experience serving meals to the military - starting as a private and working his way up to Food Service Warrant Officer for the North of England – his knowledge and experience has benefited the school since his appointment as Catering Manager in 2015.
We talked to Mr Thomas about the initiatives that have transformed the meal service in the school and the meticulous planning and provision that has taken place to protect staff and students with the Corona virus restrictions.
“The kitchen team is a close knit unit. Myself and six ladies take pride in our work and respect the skills of each individual. Some of the staff have worked in the school for many years and their knowledge and experience is invaluable. Anne, one of the longest serving team members is an excellent baker. She creates the biscuits, hot desserts and tray bakes that are made on site. Many of her creations have become favourites over the years and students, who have now moved on to further education, still comment on her cooking when they visit us.”
The majority of the food served in school is made fresh, on a daily basis in-house, ensuring quality and ingredients can be controlled, “We are very conscious of students who have food allergies and dietary restrictions and we aim to cater for all.
Meals are very reasonably priced to ensure that hot, wholesome meals are available to everyone. The standard meal deal is just £ 2.40 for a hot meal with a sweet or a drink from the drinks dispenser, or with a small increase of just 20p students can select a premier drink with the meal making it £2.60. Free school meals are entitled to a hot meal with a drink from the dispenser or a dessert, “We are determined that no child will go hungry,” says Mr Thomas, “If there is a student with no money on their account they cannot borrow money to buy cakes and snacks, we want them to eat a hot meal that will sustain them for the rest of the day. This means we will always offer loans to students at lunchtime so they can remain focused and productive during the afternoon lessons.”
As a father of a student in year 8 Mr Thomas knows first-hand the importance of children receiving a healthy, nutritious and balanced diet and the difficulties of meeting the needs of self-conscious teenagers, “In the army I served around the world, including three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether it’s the icy conditions of the arctic or the sweltering heat of the jungle, there is one overriding principle – that, in order to get the best out of anyone they must have good meal that caters for their nutritional needs.”
To meet the nutritional needs of students and educate them about the food and drinks they have the team plan the menus to ensure they meet the government guidelines. The Walls of the dining hall display important guidance on how to eat well and the hidden sugar in different drinks. These can be seen by the students as they travel through the dining hall, guiding them to make good choices that are packed with health benefits. Mr Thomas and his team have introduced separate, sandwich, pasta and baked potato bars as well as offering salads and a wide range of fruit. All items are individually wrapped to ensure strict Corona virus guidelines are maintained. Food is tested regular to ensure temperatures are within the safe range and additional sanitising and cleaning regimes are in place, along with protective equipment to keep everyone safe.
The Covid-19 guidelines have required a number of changes to the way in which the school delivers snacks and meals to staff and students alike. Tables are spaced two metres apart; thumb print systems have been suspended to reduce cross contamination and a two queue system has been introduced to speed up service, “Students arrive with masks on. We ask the students to record their details so we have a clear track and trace policy. Year groups are kept apart and tables are sanitised between sittings. Although unable to serve breakfast during the restrictions, the good news is break time snacks are still available to different years on a rota system.
A cleaning room that is completely separate to the food preparation area has been created over the summer. As well as maintaining hygiene levels, already judged as 5 stars by the environmental agency, the area speeds up the turnover of sittings, making it easy for students to clear tables. It also means that we continue to monitor the environmental impact of waste as a green flag school. Food waste is weighed and children are encouraged to have what they need to reduce waste further.”
As the restrictions continue and the colder days draw in Mr Thomas and his team continue to look for ways to improve the variety and service on offer. A soup bar with a roll is in the planning stages and will be a welcome and affordable addition in the colder months. Daily specials are something the team also hopes to include to add variety as the term progresses.
Please see the weekly menus for St Francis Xavier School
Did you know – taking school meals means you can track the food your child is having in school through the ParentPay system.
For more information on school meals contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or to see if your child is entitled to free school meals please contact North Yorkshire County Council on their website under Free School Meals https://www.northyorks.gov.uk/free-school-meals. Remember, free school meals is a confidential system, so your child will not be differentiated.