Interview with Palmer & Howells, a specialist catering provider

Jessica Kimbell, GovNet
May 26, 2024

Food Education


Encouraging students to learn more about what they're eating


Ahead of the Independent Schools Conference we caught up with Palmer & Howells, a specialist catering provider for the independent school sector, to ask them about how their approach differs and how fresh food can influence children's learning and development.

What makes Palmer & Howells Different?

Palmer & Howells empowers our individuals to be bold and make a difference through a vision of ownership, respect and continuous improvement. With a flexible approach and working with the brightest talent in the industry we can offer a truly professional service.


Describe Palmer & Howells in three words ...

Delivering Exceptional Service


What value does Palmer & Howells add being an integral part of the school?

Our “More than a Menu” programme means we recognise that offering a healthy lunch is not enough so we underpin this with healthy eating education. This begins with interaction at service time creating a buzz around the dining room through seasonal tasting tables, live cooking stations or world flavour passports that encourage younger pupils to experiment by eating different foods from all over the world. Our commitment to health and wellbeing is further demonstrated through a portfolio of added value events delivered by our food and nutrition team:

  • Whole School Multi-sensory healthy eating assembly.
  • Small group enrichment sessions – hands-on cooking in the classroom.
  • Lifestyle themed menus – traditionally boarding school suppers planned by students incorporating healthy eating principles and reinforced with a talk from a nutritionist


What is your sourcing strategy?

Our approach to food sourcing focuses on sustainability, seasonality and provenance, underpinned by food safety and due diligence. We have built great relationships with our regional supply chains; this ensures that we source the best quality products at a competitive price. By utilising robust suppliers we can ensure we have the right products available, that they are ethically sourced, traceable and safe. We engage with our fresh food suppliers to ensure that we promote the use of British seasonal produce, understand who our growers and farmers are and cascade the message of how we source back to our clients and customers.
We also have a partnership with NSF International – a global leader in supporting businesses to buy from assured supply chains. Our suppliers are checked and validated by NSF and give the confidence that their products and services are compliant, safe and quality assured.


What is the importance of healthy fresh food for children’s learning & development?

Research increasingly demonstrates the need for good nutrition across all age groups and a balanced diet reduces the number of nutrition-related illnesses in pupils. Food should be enjoyable as well as nutritious so choosing foods for a healthy balanced diet needs to be fun and doesn’t mean giving up your favourites. No single food provides all the nutrients needed for your body to stay healthy, so everyone needs to eat a variety of foods - it is the overall balance that counts.  We can provide support to our schools in many different ways, many of them included in our “more than a menu” programme. To reinforce our commitment to healthy eating we have recently established a new set of nutritional standards which have been introduced across all our schools.


What do you think is your tastiest dish?

It’s not what we think, it’s what our customers decide – that’s why we continually work with our chefs and managers to capture feedback directly from student groups and food committees.  We use this insight along with our own expertise and current food trends to continue to develop adventurous, authentic and achievable recipes that give students the food they love – their way.


How do you adapt your food to meet the needs of Prep vs Senior Schools? 

It is really important that we do not compromise on quality or nutritious value with younger pupils ensuring they receive enough energy from their diets to support their learning and physical activity requirements. We recognise the need to establish healthy eating patterns at a very early age and gradually introduce a wider variety of ingredients, dishes, flavours, textures and tastes as they progress throughout the school.

We help children to make the right lifestyle choices through education, particularly through engagement at the food counter. Our teams receive customer service training and are taught to recognise unhealthy eating habits in children. We continuously strive to reduce saturated fat, salt and sugar in our recipes and feel the palate of the nation is changing due to the work we have delivered as an industry in response to parental, media and government attention.

We like to offer assisted service in prep schools to ensure that children receive the right size portion and of course they can ask for more if they wish. We encourage our dining room teams to monitor plate wastage and use this information for menu planning - we allow our teams to use their expertise when cooking in prep schools with regards to flavour profiles, for example by reducing spice in recipes.


Palmer & Howells at Independent Schools Conference (ISC)