Isle of Wight caterer Caterlink reduces sugar across primary schools
Motivated by the high levels of obesity and high levels of sugar intake in primary school children, schools caterer Caterlink ran an ambitious project to reduce sugar in primary school meals by half.
Caterlink is a contract caterer within schools, colleges and universities, with a strong presence in London, the South East and the South West, including the Isle of Wight, where it has joined the SUGAR SMART Isle of Wight campaign. Their sugar reduction project was well received by local authorities commissioning school meals to the caterer.
On average, primary school-aged children should have a maximum of 21g of free sugars across the whole day, meaning only 6.5g or less in a school meal. At the beginning of the project, Caterlink analysed the menus, and calculated free sugars across each, which gave an average of 13g of free sugars per day. The aim was to reduce free sugars across the desserts to a maximum of 6.5g per day, in line with the guidance from the Children’s Food Trust (which is sadly no longer in operation, but schools can still access their useful resources online).
In order to meet the recommendations, Caterlink undertook a multifaceted approach:
- Products and recipes across the business that were high in free sugars were identified, removed from use and alternatives were sourced where possible. High-sugar desserts such as frozen fruit smoothies, jam tarts and chocolate krispie cakes were removed from menus.
- All recipes were reviewed against the School Food Standards portion size guidance, and portions were reduced where necessary. In some cases this led to an automatic reduction of free sugars per serving.
- To keep desserts sweet whilst ensuring that no recipe contained more than 6.5g free sugars, the caterer used dried or fresh fruit as a replacement for sugar.
- Flavoured yoghurts were removed from menus and replaced with natural yoghurt. In order to increase the sweetness slightly and make it more palatable for children, two recipes for toppings were created – vanilla and fruits of the forest - both of which remain in line with the guidance.
- Across the business Caterlink have been encouraging more fruit and yoghurt only dessert days, with a number of areas adopting two per week. The caterer have also been encouraging the inclusion of more 50 per cent fruit desserts on each menu, with fruit crumbles, strudels and sponges proving popular. Another popular dessert choice has been apple, cheese and crackers.
The company did taste tests with staff and children during trialling of newer low sugar desserts and yoghurts, which all went well and the children were positive. Initially, there was a reduced consumption of the desserts and yoghurts, which the company attributes more from the flavour than the texture. However, they have found that after a couple of months, uptake of both has returned to previous numbers as the children have gotten used to the desserts being slightly less sweet, and so waste has been reduced again.
The company succeeded in reducing all primary school desserts to a maximum of 6.5g of free sugars or less, with a daily average of just 4.5g across the autumn 2017 term and spring 2018 term. Based on the previous average of 13g free sugars per day, this resulted in an average reduction of 8.5g per day.
The sum of this reduction across all Caterlink sites has resulted in a huge reduction of over 46 tonnes of sugar per term, which is the same weight as six elephants!
SUGAR SMART is a campaign of Sustain and Jamie Oliver. It is currently the feature campaign of the UK's Sustainable Food Cities network until mid-2018.