Allergy Advice: See Parent in Bold

Allergy Advice: See Parent in Bold

The joys of the summer term are many and those of us who work in the education food service sector can feel the euphoric atmosphere to another busy year end approaching just like the hardworking students and staff.

But wait… there’s some events in the diary!

Open days, parent evenings and other events designed to enrich the beginning of term for the new starters and those moving up a year are an essential part of the school’s culture and a fantastic opportunity for the school’s caterers.

It’s an opportunity to showcase your food, your menu, the new look and plans for September and to engage as many uncles, aunts, parents, grandparent and guardians in the persuasive art of getting their offspring to eat at the school restaurant.

Guardians have the chance to ask questions: how much, how to pay on line, do I get a rebate if my child is off school? And the like.

And despite your preparations, getting extra staff in, producing samples (always a good idea!) and printing off next terms menu and promotional flyers featuring the latest organic low salt, fat and sugar specials’ you’re met with those guardians- who want to speak with you- who want to know about your allergen policy!

Can you cater for their child’s peculiar dietary requirement?  What is the school’s policy on allergens and intolerances, have you got a list of allergenic ingredients I can look at, what about may contain labels, are all your staff trained??

This is now one of the most common discussion points for those eager, and rightly so concerned guardians, who are about to embark on entrusting their children with you.

The list of allergens and intolerances can sometimes go beyond the EU Top 14 and its fair to say some requests can be challenging and very scientific!

At this level you will need help and the best action is to refer the enquiring guardian to your company’s dietician advisor!

Gone are the days when a parent simply states my little one is allergic to walnuts and walks away.  They want to engage with you, find out what processes you have in place, emergency contacts, medical reports, wider school policy and awareness with peer pressure alleviation campaigns.  (One for the Head’)

They need consumer confidence in you and the school.

In a recent discussion with Paul Donlan of Independent Catering Limited- a south east based school meals provider, he was regaling his passion for the summer term BBQ’s, parent’s evenings and new starter open days.  This was great as a senior director his delight at getting his whites on for these occasions was impressive and a reminder that despite wearing a suit most of the time us caterers love it when we are in the thick of it.

But the discussion quickly turned to allergens and intolerances.  No more discussions about locally farmed produce, the new restaurant design and the current World Cup theme days which are taking the school by storm.  No.  It’s all about special diets.  The majority of guardian engagement is about what their child can and cannot eat at school!

We asked Nourish Contract Catering what their experiences have been, Duncan La Roche came back with “Nourish carry out many parents evening as well as new starter taster sessions etc, we use the opportunity to speak to parents about the menu and how the meals are created etc. New parents are often looking for reassurance {as their child has an allergy} as this is the first time someone would be feeding their children other than themselves.  Likewise, existing parents ask about allergy information and how we can tailor menus to meet their children’s specific dietary requirements more and more”.

It’s all anecdotal but every education provider in primary, secondary and the higher education sectors are all reporting a higher number of new starters that have an allergy or intolerance to certain ingredients.

In a recent snap shot survey, we asked a group of primary schools to detail what they most wanted their catering providers to concentrate on for their new school meals contracts.

In order of importance we asked schools to score up to 5 for highly important under the following headings: Allergy & Special Diet; Budget & Finance; Customer Care; Environment & Sustainability and Marketing & Theme offer.  And the results were

We wonder how this would have looked even 5 years ago!

Good luck with your summer season events and congratulations in advance for all the help and support you give parents and guardians on behalf of your school!

Julian Edwards

ceo Allergen Accreditation