Phone habits piling pressure on school chefs

School canteen chefs flagged up emerging pressures caused by the smartphone factor. Picture: Getty
School canteen chefs flagged up emerging pressures caused by the smartphone factor. Picture: Getty
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If it wasn’t hot enough, it seems the ubiquitous mobile phone is adding to the heat in the school kitchen.

Pupils are making choices about what they eat on the basis of whether it fits in with “device time”.

The challenge for schools is coming up with menus that work for time-starved children – while ticking all the nutritional boxes.

The smartphone factor was one of the emerging pressures reported by school cooks this week.

Eight of Scotland’s canteen “master chefs” were taking part in a national school cook competition at Cook School Scotland in Kilmarnock.

The food on show is testament to the lengths kitchens are going to entice their “customers”.

Finalist Eleanor Geddes, a catering manager at East Ayrshire Council, said: “For a lot of academy children now it’s about grab and go for them. Easiness and quickness is what’s important – so that they can eat it on the go.

“They want to be out doing things with their friends on their phones. They don’t have time for eating. If it’s going to take too long standing in a queue or waiting for something that is going to take a while, that’s not what they want.”
One of the judges is Scotland’s national chef Gary Maclean, a MasterChef winner in 2016, who was appointed by the Scottish Government to promote locally-sourced Scottish food.
He said: “I think it is probably one of the toughest cooking environments you can be in.

“You’ve got the legislative stuff with the guidelines, the budgets are really tight, the window to feed them is tiny and then you have got the pressures of fast food.

“All these combined make it a really, really tough place to work.

“They talk about Michelin star kitchens being hard – try a school kitchen.”

He cautioned against too many rules limiting the provision of such things as red meat, fish and sugar.

“As much as the guidelines are important, we have to remember that if the kids don’t eat it what they are getting outside is a hundred times worse.”

Keith Breasley, chairman of Assist FM, which supports local authorities to provide catering and other services, said: “We have difficulties in being encouraged not to use disposable or single-use plastic, which means our service style needs to change.

“And that can mean we are not as High Street as our competitors, because they are still giving kids the easy-eat packages that they want.

“Kids need something in one hand and a phone in the other. It is a very hard balance.”