Andrea serving food during the holiday activities and food programme at Gorcott Hill

Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme in the Forest

1 September 2022
Heart of England Forest

During the summer holidays we worked in partnership with Redditch Borough Council to provide a woodland cooking experience as part of their Holiday Activities and Food (HAF) programme provision for children in the county.

What is HAF?

The Holiday Activities and Food programme (HAF) is a government funded programme that provides all children aged 5 to 16 years in receipt of benefits-related free school meals access to free healthy meals and activities over the school holidays. The programme grants funding to local authorities to coordinate free holiday provision for eligible children. 

Research shows that for many families, holidays can be pressure points for a variety of reasons, and this results in the children being more likely to have fewer opportunities to enjoy enriching life experiences. They may have less engaging and varied activities, including access to nutritious food, social engagement, and physical challenges, than their peers.

The aims of the HAF programme are for children who attend to:

  • Be healthy, active, and take part in engaging enriching activities that support resilience, character, and wellbeing, alongside wider educational attainment.
  • Be safe and not socially isolated.
  • Have a greater knowledge of nutrition and health.

Working together

The HAF programme was developed in response to Marcus Rashford MBE’s work highlighting the need for children to have consistent access to healthy food and healthy activities. One of the core aims of the Forest’s learning and skills work is to connect children to their environment and to nature. Sharing food and trying new activities in the Forest with the HAF programme helps them develop a personal link between their life experiences and caring for the Forest, its wildlife, and its future.

Holidays are the ideal time to try new things, experience the world outside of school, and keep fit and healthy physically and nutritionally, and being in the Forest ticks all these boxes.

The sessions were held in one of the newer areas of the Forest, Gorcott Hill, a wonderful  area of lush, varied woodland surrounded by flower studded meadows, yet less than 15 minutes from the heart of the busy urban centre of Redditch. Children have come from schools across Redditch to enjoy time in the Forest. Some have been used to outdoor challenges, some rather more anxious, but by the end all are chattering asking parents if they can come again or trying to persuade parents or carers to help them meet up with others from the session.

To ensure that getting to the Forest was not a barrier for children to attend the HAF sessions, we used our minibus to transport them to and from the Forest.

Children sitting on stumps in the woodland whittling

Outdoor cooking

In planning the menu, our learning and skills team looked at the standard essentials which are included in a typical food parcel from organisations such as the Trussell Trust, and easy nutritious one pot meals to cook when out in the field. The idea being that these recipes could also then be replicated when back at home. 

The children helped prepare, put in and stir the dishes whilst cooking and added their own extra ingredients to tailor the meal to suit their own tastes. As the children discovered, campfire food tastes so much better! One child announced to his mum: “Mum you know I don’t like pasta? Well, I love campfire pasta, so I had 3 helpings!”.

“I really liked cooking outside, the cheesy bean casserole was really tasty”
Bailey, aged 9 years.

They have also helped with washing up and helping each other with all the tasks necessary in producing dinner in the woods.

Children from the holiday activity and food programme helping prepare the meal

Safety first

We have a fire risk assessment in place in the Forest, and if there are red or amber warnings then we stop any non-essential activities that pose any kind of fire risk. Due to the heat wave and the resulting dry conditions, instead of cooking on an open fire, we have largely cooked on Trangias - small portable spirit camping stoves on which we can cook anything from a simple stew to flatbreads and hot chocolate. 

Trangias have an enclosed spirit burner, are extremely stable and can be used on a table and are safe to use without creating a fire risk when cooking outdoors. As an extra precaution in this extremely dry period, these were only used on hardstanding areas.

This meant that we were still able to use our unique environment to teach cooking skills to the young people on the programme, ensuring that each accessed a hot, healthy meal, and learnt skills which could be replicated at home.

Casserole in a pot ready to be served.

Basic meal plan

Cheesy bean casserole 

Side options 
Brown bread (options for toasting) butter / jam also available 
Hot dog sausage pieces (optional)
Sweetcorn (optional)
Peas and carrots (optional)
Edam cheese (optional)

Jelly – choice of raspberry / strawberry 
Whipped cream 
Fruit salad in fruit juice 

Extra options 
Noodles / crisps / biscuits / squash / milk. These were all available as options in case individuals did not like the main meal on offer.

It was extremely important that the children went home happy and well fed.

Forest activities

As well as experiencing outdoor cooking, the children also explored the woods, built dens, tried archery and bug hunting, ate toasted marshmallows, and made new friends, before going home tired and happy to share their stories with their families. We were thrilled to hear so many children get off the minibus and immediately say to the adult collecting them “Can we go next week?” 

Connecting younger generations to nature 

The Heart of England Forest is a beautiful place to spend time and learn more about nature. It provides opportunities for fun and adventure with your family, to make new friends, and to learn with classmates. Find out more about our work creating future Forest guardians and why not bring your children or grandchildren to our Young Foresters or Mini Foresters weekend clubs?

Children playing outside at Gorcott Hill with a ball