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Summer is a well-deserved break for school catering staff

Jeanette OrreyIt’s coming up to the summer holidays and for many in the school food world it will be a well-deserved break. When I was working in the kitchen, I used to think this was one of the hardest terms - it’s long, and usually very hot in the kitchen!   

As well as the heat and all the usual stresses you, your team, teachers and site staff have faced an unprecedented year. Working in the school catering service, you have always been able to improvise. When meal numbers come into the kitchen and there’s more children than you’ve cooked for, it’s not a problem because you can, and you do, make it work. But when numbers go down it’s not so easy. 

I’m sure you’ve all experienced the sinking feeling when you know the food is ordered, the hours in the kitchen are sorted, the meals are prepared and everything is ready for mid-day - then you hear that a bubble has gone down. It could be 30 children or more and your mind races to the food waste and the impact on your budget 

You and your team have coped with these challenges, as well as staff having to isolate, leaving the remaining team with a heavier workload, and many other issues too numerous to mention. But against the odds you’ve made it through this year and I’m sure your school is really proud of all you have achieved..  

Although resilience within the school meals workforce has been huge, I would like to focus for a moment on yours and your team’s mental health and wellbeing. I have received emails, messages and phone calls from many of you telling me that you have really struggled to cope. It’s so important now that we take a moment to rest after a stressful year. 

For some of you it has all been too much and you have decided to retire. I wish you well and thank you for your service, particularly during this dreadful time. Myself and the team at Food for Life have really enjoyed getting to know you and support you where we could. The majority of you are still working. If you are struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. We need you to be healthy and well so that you can do what you do best, and most importantly, the children need you too. 

The young people you have fed, nurtured and built relationships with over the years may not realise the true value of your role now, but in later years you will meet young adults who have never forgotten you. After all the years I have been out of the school kitchen, I still get former pupils coming over to say hello, introducing me to their own children and thanking me for the meals and comfort I provided. 

So please do have a lovely break, stay safe and I hope that come September I can get back out to meet some of you face to face. I really have missed you all.

Jeanette Orrey MBE


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