Brain food for thought…and success in school 9 May 2022

It’s long been known that a poor diet can have a detrimental effect not only on children’s general and future health, but also on educational attainment.

And healthy eating is high on the Government’s agenda, with initiatives developed to encourage and support families to eat better.

With children spending a vast proportion of their time in school, it’s great to see what schools are also doing to support this. We’ve been privileged to hear many stories of schools across the UK coming up with ways to offer healthier, yet delicious food options to their pupils.

We caught up with Helen Smart, Campus Business Director at Brookvale Groby Learning Campus in Leicester, and Jaime Hall, Catering Lead at the school. We felt incredibly hungry after hearing about all the tasty food they have on offer!


Enticing menus

“It’s been very important for us to develop a menu that is not only healthy, but that the kids actually want to eat.” Says Helen.

Supported by the PiXL network, staff at Brookvale Groby have overhauled their menus, offering delicious and nutritious meals.

Some of the meals on offer include:

  • ‘A Different Fish Finger Sandwich’ featuring higher quantities of quality fish, which ‘helps improve the mood, regulates blood pressure, and stabilises blood pressure’.
  • ‘Mexican Chicken Enchiladas’ which ‘energise you over a long period, boost memory and promote healthy brain cells.’
  • ‘Chickpea and Vegetable Curry’ to ‘stimulate brain cells, improve memory, help you to relax and de-stress, and give your immunity a boost.’

“We’ve trawled through government policies and guidance to develop our menus based on evidence and research into healthy eating. And the students must always have a portion of salad or vegetables with whatever they’re eating. So, over time, even the most reluctant ones eventually try something they wouldn’t normally choose.” Helen adds.

And they’re finding that, despite vegetables being compulsory, the levels of wastage are fairly low.

“So, the evidence is that once a student has taken an item onto their plates, they usually eat it. Our children on free school meals are encouraged to take a piece of free fruit. And we’ve found that containers of bite-sized pieces and berry pots are really popular with all children.”


Getting the kids involved

Getting the students involved and interested in what they eat has been vital in the success of the new menus.

“For each new dish we develop, we have pictures of them displayed in each of our canteens along with the recipes so kids know how to make them themselves. And it’s all on our website too, so parents and kids can follow the videos and learn how to make the dishes at home.”

All the recipes can be found in the PiXL Power to Perform recipe booklet. The booklet talks through the benefits of each of the dishes and what time of day is best to eat each one. It discusses the nutrients found in the ingredients and how they help different parts of our bodies.

This way, students and parents can see why certain things are on the menu at the school and that there is clear evidence-based rationale behind the choices.

“We’ve also run competitions for the kids to come up with recipes. Last summer, the winner of our ‘Summer Dish’ competition came up with a recipe for taco cups, with runner up recipes for tomato and feta pasta and strawberry rhubarb crumble bars.”


Healthy eating ethos & sustainability

“We’ve always had a healthy eating ethos” Helen tells us. “We’ve eradicated the sale of chocolate bars, crisps, fizzy pop, and other things that are too high in sugar or saturated fats. We make sure we are fully compliant with government guidance in terms of amounts of sugars in products that we’re allowed to sell.”

The school has also been mindful of its impact on the environment: “We’re trying to reduce plastic in the kitchen as much as possible. For example, we’ve moved most of our drinks to cardboard containers. It’s part of our green pledge.” Helen says.


Positive feedback

The feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. One of the post-16 pupils ran a survey of the students who made suggestions of things they’d like to see in the canteens.

“This is when decided to go down the route with PiXL and started rolling out our new options gradually. We got an email from the sixth-former this week to say how happy the students were that we’d listened to them and provided a different selection. They really appreciated it.”


Brain food, freshly prepared on site

The school has made efforts to investigate the kinds of foods that give kids stamina during exams “So, in partnership with PiXL, we’ve been mindful to include things like fish on our menus more frequently, and also a Florentine pizza which has spinach and egg on it. Both known to be great brain foods.” Helen says.

And sometimes it’s a work-in-progress, as Jaime tells us:

“Our beetroot salad, at first, didn’t look anything like it did on the picture! Sometimes it’s a case of trial and error for our chefs to get the dishes just right. And it turns into a bit of healthy competition in the kitchen. When we get a new dish, we see who can make it look as enticing as possible. It’s important for take-up that the food looks as good as it tastes.”

It seems to us like these catering staff really care about the food they put out there and that the kids are enjoying the healthy options.


Do you know a member of school staff or an entire team going above and beyond to improve things for the children in their school? Why not send them a free thank you message via our website?

And don’t forget, May 26th is National Thank a Teacher Day. We have a writing competition, a baking competition, and a drawing competition for you to enter.

The writing competition will be judged by children’s author and actor, David Walliams. And the drawing competition will be judged by writer and illustrator, Rob Biddulph.

We’ve also got some free lesson resources – linked to PSHE curriculum objectives – for you to download and use.