After school is a busy time for Cherry Trees when lots of children and young people arrive for a tea-time visit or for some an overnight stay. A big part of what we offer here and also pride ourselves on is our fantastic kitchen facilities and the food we serve during every visit. Every single meal I cook is fresh, using a balance of nutritious ingredients and are packed with flavours. Lots of my ingredients are sourced from nearby green grocers, butchers and shops, making for tasty and good value meals.

Tea-times here can mean feeding around 10 youngsters and then their accompanying 10 carers, and can take some serious planning to make meal times a success! With more and more children and adults suffering from allergies and intolerances home-made has got to be best.

We make as much of the food that we eat from scratch from fresh ingredients. This way we know exactly what is in the food and the simplicity of the required ingredients mitigates a lot of the dietary issues.

Take for example my home-made garlic bread which needs to contain just 6 or maybe 7 ingredients. Flour, salt, yeast, water, butter and garlic. Occasionally add a splash of olive oil. We can replace the butter if the recipe needs to be dairy free, or use a gluten free flour, yet the garlic bread supplied by one of the very well-known supermarkets lists 20 ingredients!

 At Cherry Trees we get to know our children’s likes, dislikes and firm favourites from the get-go of them coming here. This starts at the application form, and often at the start of a child’s relationship with us we see lots of ‘won’t eat potato’… ‘only likes lettuce’ or in one instance; ‘must have food pureed’.

In the last couple of weeks we have been told that a piece of fresh chicken breast hand coated in breadcrumbs is not a chicken nugget, and a potato peeled by hand and hand cut into a long rectangular shape is not a chip. Some children have got so used to this type of food coming from the freezer or a ‘mc-take-away’ and simply do not know what the real food looks or tastes like. 

The carers and keyworkers get to know the children really well and have a good knowledge of the children’s likes and what they have tried and also not liked (!) on past visits and this means that over time we get a good picture of whose in, what they will eat and even more importantly how we can coax them to try something new to broaden their diets so they get not only the health benefits but the enjoyment too! My Spanish Paella is a hit and that’s got a lot of peas, carrots and onions hidden in it!

We pride ourselves on a ‘home from home’ environment for children with disabilities to come to and this couldn’t be better illustrated than seeing our children and care staff sit down to eat together in our dining room. As far as possible we aim to be totally inclusive with everyone eating the same. For example on lasagne night there will be gluten free lasagne and vegetarian lasagne on the menu. On numerous occasions children have asked to try whatever it is their carer is eating if it is different to theirs. 

 We fully understand that a child may not like peas or mashed potatoes for example. With a bit of flexibility and the home made philosophy, the hope is that every children enjoys eating here and it makes it all worth-while when a child asks if they can have the same meal again next week! This spring we have a calendar of global cuisine planned, that will make mealtimes special – fun and a chance to try something new. Burns night and Chinese New Year have been celebrated, roll on St Patrick’s Day and Real Bread Week! As a charity that prides itself on its work within disabilities we are probably one of the first places to be introducing a complete PECS (picture exchange communication system) menu system so those children that aren’t verbal can tell us exactly what they’d like to eat next!