What makes a good school cook?

by Marianne Hendry, School Cook

My name is Marianne Hendry. I am a farmer’s wife, mother of two boys and after always having worked in offices, for the last three years I have been working for Stirling Council as a school cook in a small rural school.  I find the job hugely creative and I take the laid back approach, well most of the time anyway until the clock starts ticking and I feel like I am in an episode of ready steady cook!

Lunchtime is at 12.15 and not a minute later, which is when classroom two becomes Strathyre Café. We don’t have the luxury of a dining room in our school.

Cooking for children is, in some ways, much harder than cooking for adults. Young childrens’ taste buds are still developing and therefore new tastes should be tried a few times to be appreciated – yet with school children, trying out school lunches,  you often only have one chance in getting it right.  Being a parent myself and speaking to other parents, it can sometimes be a real challenge to introduce healthy foods into the diets of our youngsters. 

What makes a good school lunch? In my opinion a good school lunch should be nutritious, made with good quality ingredients and freshly made on the day.

What makes a good school cook? Somebody who can take these ingredients and transform them into a lunch that children actually want to eat.  Easier said than done!

So how do we achieve this? By being creative! Sometimes all it takes is changing the presentation of your dish. A child often reasons (and maybe a lot of adults too!) that if a dish looks bad, it will almost certainly tastes bad. 

Pasta sauces are a great way to introduce vegetables into your child’s diets. Use these sauces on pizzas or home-made flatbreads too.

Stirling Council’s fishcakes had a bit of struggle to be accepted by the children – until I put them on a freshly home baked fish shaped roll on a “sea” of cucumber ribbons in my school and suddenly the same dish was much more popular.

Peer pressure is huge and fussy eaters who are sitting next to good eaters often become much better in time. Don’t ever patronise and, when asked, it is very important to be honest about the ingredients in their dish or you will lose their trust.

Lunch should be enjoyed and not endured and should never become a battle. We don’t tell children off for leaving food on their plate. There is no pressure. As a result we have very little food waste.


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