Vegetarianism and veganism in education

Jonathan Harvey-Barnes is Senior Development Chef at Essential Cuisine. Having started kitchen life under the tutelage of the highly respected John Williams MBE at Claridge’s in Mayfair, he spent a further 22 years cooking in AA Rosette country house hotels until eventually swapping his whites for the blues of the north west manufacturer of class-leading stocks and sauces.

Jonathan now works as part of a team of three business development chefs, dedicated to inspiring customers and the next generation of chefs.

Here, he talks about vegetarianism and veganism in education, and what steps school chefs can implement to encourage pupil uptake.

Improving uptake of vegetarian and vegan foods in schools can only be a good thing – a wider variety of nutrient rich ‘superfoods’ such as beans, pulses, seeds, brown rice, chilli and garlic, are not only important for wellbeing; they can, if eaten as part of a healthy diet, also have benefits for productivity and greater concentration; vital ingredients for the learning environment.

So how do school chefs get kids at least trying more plant-based dishes? It’s incredibly important that any vegetarian or vegan option on a school menu isn’t just a dull and uninspired afterthought. Our advice when we’re working with school chefs is to try and make these types of dishes the most vibrant and colourful that they can and try to include ingredients like pulses and grains that make for a more interesting texture.

It’s all about capturing kids’ interests and fuelling not just themselves but their imaginations. A great way to do this is to put vegetarian or vegan dishes at the very front of the run, making it the first thing that hungry kids see when they’re queuing for food.

From a menu planning perspective, we always advise kitchens to create vegetarian or vegan bean or rice bases that can enjoyed singly by those following that diet or be personalised with a piece of grilled chicken or salmon. That way school chefs can create more of these types of dishes more often, leaving the decision in non-vegetarian or vegan pupils’ hands whether they want to go meat-free on any given day.

Another great way to get children enthused about plant-based dishes is to theme a menu around events like Veganuary or National Vegetarian Week or get plant-based ingredients into the classroom, allowing them the time to get hands-on.

Very recently, we joined forces with leading foodservice business Brakes, Love British Food and school caterer Edsential to celebrate British Food Fortnight by delivering inspirational food education sessions to children in schools in north west England.

 The sessions focused on scratch cooking, health and wellbeing and British produce and involved over 50 highly engaged pupils aged 7-9 from Darnhall Primary School in Winsford and Victoria Road Primary School in Northwich, respectively.

We worked with the children, inviting them to get hands-on using different foods to explore their taste buds and senses in a highly interactive session. Following this they were taught knife skills under our tutelage; including the bridge and the claw technique – chopping fresh vegetables and preparing their own salad with dressing.At Essential Cuisine we’re passionate advocates that a love of cooking and food should begin as early as possible. Engaging with kids at grass-roots level not only helps them improve and hone basic kitchen skills, it’s also vital in helping them understand food, especially plant-based ingredients, and their importance to both their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the planet.

The rise of vegetarianism and latterly plant-based dining has been nothing short of irresistible. As evidence of this, it’s reported that some 400,000 people signed up for the 2020 Veganuary campaign, meaning this is no fad. Reflecting this upward trend; 40% of our product range is now suitable for vegetarians, with a further 13 core products, not including our newest ‘Street Food Chef’ range of seasonings and a new four-strong ‘chicken’, ‘beef’, vegetarian and even ‘lamb’ range of stocks, suitable for vegans.

Furthermore, we provide a host of inspirational education focused vegan and vegetarian recipe support to working kitchens, including dishes like Tofu Poke, Pulled Jackfruit, Goats Cheese and Beetroot Tart, and fried pineapple rice, giving them the tools to quickly and simply take vegan and vegetarian menus to new levels.

For more information on the Essential Cuisine range call 01606 541490, email: visit: or find them on twitter:

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