Talk to us about fostering 01722 442 725

Cucumber Stroganoff? Yuk! – How Five Rivers’ Residential Service changed the way children view food.

In October 2020, one conversation sparked a change in the fundamentals of how we look after and care for our children and young people. It brought to the fore the impact fresh food has not only on a child’s wellbeing, but their relationship with food and the benefits home cooking can have on their relationships with the people who care for them. This is where the Five Rivers Food for Thought project started, which since its inception, has completely changed the way our children view and engage with food, as well as our colleagues!

To celebrate World Food Day (16 October), we thought we’d share the journey we’ve been on over the last year, and our exciting plans for the future.

“Where families are concerned, food is integral, three meals a day, but it’s also the heart of the home.” – Sarah Stefano

The Food for Thought project started at The Orchard, after the home’s registered manager, Chelsea Bryan, found out that some of the staff weren’t very experienced in the kitchen. With Christmas on the horizon, and another lockdown looming, Chelsea spoke with our Head of Residential Services, Sarah Stefano, who invited professional chef, Warren Hoile (known as Chef Ollie), to come to The Orchard and teach the team and the children and young people, how to make Christmas dinner.

Ollie said: “Sarah reached out and suggested this idea of teaching the adults at children and young people at The Orchard, how to make basic, wholesome food. Before heading into the Christmas lockdown, we were lucky enough to be able to visit The Orchard in Taunton and cook a big Christmas dinner. Everyone was a little shy when I walked in, but when one of the children in the home engaged with me – they realised that I wasn’t that scary and began to chat to me.”

From this, the project grew, and similar sessions have now taken place at Ebble House, Bourne House and Clannad, with more events planned at our other residential homes. As a further extension to this, many of the homes now have their own allotments, where they are learning to grow fruit and veg, and introducing children to food at its source. The allotments are helping them to understand how the tomatoes they grow can end up as a soup, or a sauce, or in their tacos.

For both Sarah and Ollie, there have been so many highlights to the project. For Sarah – Seeing the children engage and getting something out of it. Chelsea said to me recently the Orchard now only cook with fresh food. Everything on their menu is made from scratch – except for one messy meal in the freezer for the odd day when they’re too busy with activities.”

For Ollie – One of the children at The Orchard wouldn’t eat breakfast, so I devised a questionnaire, along the lines of I need your help… I need you to try different breakfasts for me – within a day she was doing just that.”

The introduction of this project has helped the children learn how to eat and live healthily and build some positive memories along the way. The children are heavily involved in the project, working with Ollie to create menus based on their favourite foods.

Sarah shares – “One of the best things about this project for me is that the children are heavily involved. From the beginning, Ollie has been working closely with the children and consulting with them. I remember a time when a child was really struggling with food and had Kebab at Clannad – a high salt, high saturate, fast food. It’s very difficult to change your eating behaviours straight away when you’ve only ever known certain foods. A highlight for me is when Ollie learned of this and then designed the (healthier) Clannad kebab, which the children were able to take part in. They had so much fun selecting new ingredients and trying different foods.”

In May 2021, the residential service held their first-ever Spring Fayre, inviting people from around the organisation to come and buy fresh homegrown produce, and try some of the foods which the homes had been making. One of the boys who had previously been nervous about engaging, asked to help Ollie with the burgers, a massive step forward for him. Following the success of the events, we are now planning to hold three events per year, where people from around the organisation can come along to buy produce which the homes have made, and to try different foods from different cultures.

Since the project began, there have been many favourite recipes, some which haven’t been popular to begin with, but have since become firm favourites – for example the Cucumber Stroganoff, which Ollie reflects has had a very similar reaction from everybody, who then swiftly change their minds after trying it.

Both Sarah and Ollie are extremely proud of the project, especially after seeing engagement with it from across the organisation. The changes which can be seen in the adults and the children has been phenomenal, with adults taking pride in developing and finding new recipes to continue without Ollie’s support. The project is now being rolled out across all our children’s residential homes, and Sarah and Ollie are continuing to work to develop the reach of the project. In 2022, they plan to focus on breakfast and snacks, to make sure that children and adults have a positive and healthy start to the day.

Ollie added: I’m fiercely proud of it, it’s some of the best work I’ve done, and I’ve been a chef for 34 years.

Work with us

We are always looking for engaged and passionate people to work for us and have a range of opportunities.

Find out more
Request a Call