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Food for Life’s Pandemic Year - Growing in a different world

At the start of 2020 Food for Life was bursting with optimism for making good food the easy choice for everyone.

Then Coronavirus struck.

Our offices were closed, schools were sent home. Was this the end? Far from it. 

In the face of Covid the nation turned to cooking and growing, and we were right there to help. With support from partners including ParentPay, we have been able to help schools and Early Years, Caterers and cooks to keep children well fed and connected to nature. 

We’d like to share with you our Year in Food for Life.

January

January 2020’s State Of The Nation report shone a light on how desperately the UKs children need Food for Life. Our families eat the most ultra-processed food in all of Europe. 60% of school meals fail to comply with government School Food Standards; by 2024 4/10 children will leave primary school obese; 9/10 preschool children eat too much sugar.

The terrible effects of obesity on heart health are well documented, but less widely known is the effect on brain development and cognition. Our children’s ability to learn relies on eating healthy food, every day. The most deprived children face the biggest disadvantage. Food for Life helps schools that care to level up.

February

In February we hosted 

  • caterers, 
  • cooks, 
  • food writers and 
  • educationalists 
at the Food for Life Conference, addressing child ill-health and broken food systems. 

We celebrated schools making real changes with the inaugural Peter Melchett Award. Closing the conference, Soil Association’s Director of Policy & Strategy Jo Lewis talked of "joining the dots” between climate, nature and health – “crises that have food sitting at their very heart.”
National Food for Life conference

March

March was the month the nation was plunged into a different crisis – COVID 19. Different, yet also throwing a terrible light on the inequalities in the UK food system. We saw how fragile our supply chain is, with shelves stripped bare. 

Our ability to feed ourselves was called into question. Families in poverty faced hunger. Food for Life successfully lobbied the government to extend Free School Meals to the most vulnerable in society.

April

In April we began providing free resources for schools to use and share with families. Cooking and growing resonated with everyone. We launched our nationwide free membership programme to aid curriculum learning in a safe and nurturing way. 

Schools embraced Food for Life activities – we saw a surge of interest in the Food for Life Awards.

May

During May over a hundred schools signed up for our free membership pack. We created new activities, and specialist advice to make sure everyone could grow and cook in a Covid-safe way. Our team sent fortnightly newsletters to all our schools, offering practical support and a much needed morale boost.

Child at Canteen

June

June saw the launch of our brand new Food for Life Podcasts, where the Food for Life team shared their expertise on a range of topics from hospital food to gardening for beginners, in a new accessible format.

July

In July we created checklists for cooks and caterers to support them to provide food safely on their return to school. We successfully lobbied for a return of the School Fruit and Veg scheme (with other charities and food trusts), AND responded to the Governments new Obesity Strategy and the Interim National Food strategy

No lazing in the sun for us!

August

During August and throughout lockdown, the Cook and Eat Innovation Project showed how adaptable, resourceful and resilient Food For Life can be, helping families learn new food skills.

Cook and eat bags

September

September was back to school month, and Food for Life continued helping teachers and pupils adjust to the new academic year - our Awards are shown to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Jeanette Orrey MBE, Food for Life’s cofounder - and, in the words of Jamie Oliver “National Hero”, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Public Sector Catering. Jamie wished her another 20 years showing people how it’s done.

Jeanette Orrey

October

In October Food for Life was again making headlines when the Hospital Food Review, advised by Prue Leith, recommended NHS Trusts to go for accreditations such as Food for Life Served Here to ensure the highest standards of food quality were applied across the board. 

The report uncovered large inconsistencies in service and food quality in trusts not currently working with Food for Life.

As part of World Food Day, we held a ‘Cookalong’ with community cook Nagat Hussein, bringing people all over the country together to create a mouth-watering nutritious Dal using her family’s special Eritrean recipe. This recipe was featured in Soil Association’s Living Earth magazine!

November

November was all about #EndChildFoodPoverty with Food for Life adding our influence with government to calls from Marcus Rashford to make sure no child goes hungry.

We held a hugely well received Healthy Pack Lunches webinar and another on Outdoor Learning. We continued to support schools provide healthy hot meals, despite the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

December

During December we thanked our stalwart teachers with English Tea Shop teas, and celebrated caterers preparing Christmas feasts. In one of our Trusts, Learning Academy Partnership South West, the catering team peeled over 1000 sprouts!

Since the New Year, Food for Life have helped little ones start out on the right path with their food journey, with over 200 Early Years settings signing up to our Free Membership programme. With nurseries still working at full capacity during the second lockdown despite self-isolating and bubbles, Food for Life understood the need for guidance and support around nursery food, ensuring our youngest children continue to eat well and grow.

Award Submissions

Despite the challenges Food for Life Schools Awards submissions have kept rolling in! Over the pandemic 1200 criteria have been completed, and we’re delighted to say a staggering 34 schools have managed to complete their Award. High Fives to the schools whose commitment has never wavered, and to our fabulous Awards team for supporting them through thick and thin.

As a small charity Food for Life relies on the generosity of partners and sponsors to keep our vital work going. 

Good food for all, food poverty, food insecurity and sustainability have all been brought into sharp focus through the lens of the pandemic. Our work has never been more important. As we approach COP26 in November, Food for Life’s work connects climate, nature and health. We’ve been able to achieve more than we could ever have dreamed possible a year ago, but there’s so much more to do. We are grateful for the support of ParentPay over the past year and look forward to making real food the easy choice for everyone, together.

Parent Pay


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