For many of our young disabled students, eating can be a real challenge. Our Nash College in Bromley is constantly finding new ways to cater for various dietary requirements and to turn meal times into a fun, social occasion where all our young people can enjoy themselves.
My latest guest blogger is Lesley Coward, Catering Manager at Nash College, who tells us more about the work of her team:
Food is our passion and making sure that our students have a nutritious, balanced diet is what we are striving for.
In March 2013 we were delighted to receive our highest accolade to date from the senior Ofsted inspector who came to assess the quality of our work.
The inspector commented that:
“This College has the best catering provision for its students in any school or college that I have seen, in the whole 11 years I have been inspecting. And I really mean that.”
In order to receive that comment we had shown her the diverse range of diets and menus we have produced to support the students to make choices, be healthy, promote respect and celebrate diversity.
As catering manager when students first arrive at the college, I speak to them individually, alongside their advocate, and ascertains as many personal opinions as we can on what and how the student likes to eat.
We then receive specialist information and advice from our Speech and Language Therapy team, allergy information and nutrition needs from Nursing and Dieticians and behaviour information from our Psychology team.
We not only look at religious and cultural needs but also at our students’ individual preferences with regard to how they like to choose and then eat their food. Often students with autism have particular sensory needs that can affect how they wish to eat. For example some students will not touch any foods which are wet or soft, so we prepare a version of the main course with that in mind. We will take a main course choice of cod and prawn pie, but for our finger food students, they would be offered cod goujons crispy baked.
When Lasagne is on the menu, for example, we will be preparing and serving 7 different versions.
- Standard Lasagne
- Gluten Free Lasagne
- Dairy Free Lasagne
- Vegetarian Lasagne
- Puree lasagne
- Bolognaise meatballs
- Puff pastry bolognaise parcels.
Many of the students at Nash College have difficulties with swallowing when eating and drinking. The SaLT team assess a student’s swallowing skills and recommend the appropriate consistency for that student. For some of these students, having a modified diet is the only way they are able to continue eating and drinking safely.
This is where our skills with the pureed food are really beneficial.
Historically and traditionally, pureed food is usually presented as different coloured shapes of puree on a plate. This is not appetizing to anybody and does not encourage anyone to eat. Some students with complex health needs have to eat a really good diet to maintain their nutrition and hydration and we receive support and information from the Dieticians in order to get this right.
So at Nash, we provide our puree diets in a moulded form; it would be difficult to tell that the food is actually pureed. For example, moulded chicken looks like chicken, moulded peas look like peas and so on. We have found that improving the appearance of our meals, and making it look more like the food other students are eating, has a direct effect on appetite and a student’s enjoyment of their meal.
Why would you be interested in eating 3 different colours of “mush “when your friend next to you is tucking into a pizza or a burger?
Our pureed meals look appetizing and are produced in exactly the same way that we prepare our standard meals; taste, flavours and aroma are all there.
We have also discovered that enhancing the flavour of our foods has a positive effect on encouraging our students to eat, and aroma can stimulate appetite.
We also learned that strong and sharp flavours might help trigger a swallow in someone that has a swallowing problem and therefore may help that person swallow their food, creating a less stressful and more enjoyable eating experience.
We have a truly committed team in the Nash College kitchen who really believes in providing a bespoke service to our 84 individual students. With the very positive comments from Ofsted and a 5 star Hygiene rating from the Bromley Environmental Health Department, we continue to find new and innovative ways to serve meals to our students.