Freshly prepared onsite meals bring variety, colour and flavour to Chailey
The children and young people at Chailey Heritage Foundation are enjoying a new diet of freshly prepared and cooked meals on site, that incorporate fresh, colourful locally sourced ingredients that meet the nutritional requirements of each child’s diet plan.
Mandy Mason who is the Staff and Pupil Support Manager, explains that this project has been a long time in the making, with staff and parents working together attending food and nutrition groups as well as working alongside a dietician, speech and language therapists and a nutrition nurse to provide an innovative and exciting menu, freshly prepared on site every day, to meet the complex needs of each young person.
The opportunity finally arrived when The Dream Centre opened last November 2019. A space became available that could be converted into an onsite kitchen and so Mandy and the team started planning how to prepare and serve meals on site. A visit was organised to another specialist school to look at their facilities and how they were able to cater for individual needs. Learnings were taken forward and the new facilities are impressive, a Rationale cooker enables new cook Sharon Ellis to prepare different foods at different temperatures using different methods, from roasting to frying and steaming. Such state-of-the-art kitchen technology allows the team to provide a varied and interesting menu for the young people here.
Sharon, who previously worked as a housekeeper for Willows bungalow at Chailey Heritage Foundation, brings a range of knowledge and experience to her new role of Cook. She has run her own café, catered for big groups of people in events and has a very real understanding of the complex challenges of the individuals she is cooking for due to her experience working with them in her previous role at Chailey. Most importantly, Sharon is incredibly passionate about bringing the joy of food and pleasure of eating to the young people she cooks for, in her own words, “It’s about providing fresh food with as much variety, taste and colour as possible.”
She does this by sourcing natural, fresh foods and ingredients through good suppliers geared to give individuals what they need nutritionally. She has also delivered a varied menu including everything from classics like chicken casserole and fish pie to eastern themed stir fries. A variety of daily vegetables such as butternut squash, red cabbage, carrots and peas add to the colour and flavour of each dish too.
Mandy explains that it is a complex process, with each young person having an eating and drinking recommendation which is produced by each inividual’s named Speech & Language Therapist. The guidance includes things such as their likes, dislikes, position they need to be in when eating/ feeding and their IDDSI level (The International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative) which specifies the consistency of the food they eat from a level 0 (completely pureed for tube feeding) to a level 7 (those with the ability to bite and chew). The food is all blended within the kitchen using various appliances including a Robocoup blender, which has the ability to blend to the finest of consistencies. The kitchen takes all of this into consideration, ensuring that food is prepared to the exact specifications for each young person.
This is the other wonderful thing about the new team, they believe presentation and experience of tasting different foods is just as important as the consistency, so if foods are blended they are presented separately so that the young person can experience the array of colours and different smells and tastes of each food, rather than it all being mixed together. This gives them the chance to enjoy it as much as possible.
The Speech & Language Team have provided training and guidance to support staff in preparing the food to the right levels. They also carry out audits to ensure that this is maintained. By using the IDDSI system it ensures safety and consistency between different organisations, for example if a young person was admitted to hospital or another care facility, their dietary requirements can be maintained and met. Another benefit is that dieticians can quickly work out what component of an individual’s diet may need to be changed or monitored if needed.
Jenny Smith who is a lunchtime supervisor at Chailey, completes the team in terms of her experience working front of house in restaurants for many years, understanding the importance of food presentation, people skills and time scales ensuring hot food reaches diners on time. She too believes passionately in providing the pleasure of food, everything from colours and taste through to the presentation. She explains that the feedback from the different school departments and teaching staff has been really positive reporting that children are more engaged and enjoying the new menu prepared and served on site. Those who are able to, are even choosing their lunch allowing them to exercise decision making and experience the anticipation of food. Photographic cards of each meal on the menu will be allocated to each department to share with the young people to aid their decisions of the menu choices where possible. The menu will also feature on the website once it has been designed, for everyone to view.
Jenny reports that there has been a marked improvement in wellbeing, which goes to show that pleasure of food is paramount to keeping the young people engaged and enjoying their meal times. In fact Sharon and Jenny stay onsite in the kitchen during meal times in case any of the pupils have enjoyed their meal so much that they want a second helping. The kitchen also provides freshly prepared desserts every day, whereas before premade desserts or cakes were provided.
In terms of moving forward, the team are passionate about trying new ideas and recipes and Mandy explains that they are starting to use the Nutmeg Programme which is nutritional software that allows them to input the menu and quantities for each child, which breaks down the nutritional value of each meal. This will allow the team to ensure that each child is meeting their required nutritional needs and will reassure parents too. It is also advantageous to dieticians who can resolve any dietary issues by reviewing what has been eaten and when.
Finally, what stands out most of all when visiting the kitchen is the passion, energy and determination of those that work there. Mandy, Sharon and Jenny are dedicated and ambitious for the kitchen to go from strength to strength, delivering tasty, enjoyable, nutritious meals that can help the young people at Chailey discover the joy of food, maintain weight and be as healthy as possible. We look forward to bringing you more news on how the new kitchen will continue to create exciting food experiences for the young people at Chailey over the coming months.