39 steps to improve school meals uptake

18 September 2009 by
39 steps to improve school meals uptake

Try some of these ideas for getting reluctant young people and children to change their eating habits at school. Janet Harmer reports


You can never know too much about the pupils and students you are serving and it does not have to be expensive. Observation is free and you can learn a lot by watching the body language and reaction of youngsters in the lunch queue. Talk to them about their likes, dislikes and lifestyles to show you care and are interested.

It is particularly important to engage with the secondary school market - teenagers are a challenge and will often do the opposite of what you expect them to do. If you get them involved in making improvements, it will encourage them to use the dining service and respect the space.


Gain the commitment of catering staff as they are the key people in driving up sales. One of the reasons Cambridgeshire won the 2009 Catey for Best Group Marketing Campaign was by gaining the support of all school-based staff. A conference for 250 catering supervisors at a four-star hotel helped bring them on board. The event was used to outline details of the "10 out of 10" campaign, which was designed to increase meal numbers by 10 meals per day at each school over a three-year period. Once staff are committed, keep them motivated by saying "thank you" and "well done".


Good communication is vital in keeping fresh and innovative marketing ideas flowing. Keep catering staff informed of success stories through a newsletter, so good practice can be shared between schools.


Think about marketing via mobile phones. Southampton City Catering sends texts of menus to parents.


Or send messages via Twitter. Somerset County Council is one of the first local authorities to use the social networking site to publish its school menu. Its catering arm, Somerset County Services (SCS), which provides lunches to 88 school sites throughout the county, is trialling a scheme where parents who subscribe to http://twitter/SCSSchoolMeals will receive a tweet each morning showing what's on the menu that day. The feed will also be used to update parents on special theme days, taster sessions and how to apply for free school meals. Any parent or carer can sign up, whether their child eats school meals or not.

"We are always looking for new ways to get information to parents, so using a social network like Twitter is the next logical step," says SCS's Karen Rafferty.

The London borough of Tower Hamlets also has a Twitter feed at . It is in its infancy, but will build up as it is promoted on menus and other printed materials.


Food cannot be forced down the throats of teenagers. It is often better to spread the healthy eating message as part of a lifestyle package. The website www.yougo4it.co.uk - which has signed up 10 local authority caterers - promotes sensible diet alongside the benefits of exercise, with podcasts and blogs from international athletes such as platform diver Tom Daley and 110-metre hurdler Andy Turner.


Ensure the school's catering website is easily accessible and not buried away within a local authority site. Parents want swift and stress-free access to menus. The more clicks required, the fewer people will be able to obtain the information they want.


Improving knowledge and awareness of healthy eating is the best way to encourage pupils and students to eat school lunches. A host of initiatives, offering resources and visits, are on hand which can help schools to introduce the healthy eating message into the classroom:

Academy of Culinary Arts Chefs Adopt a School: A full-time team of seven chefs supported by about 350 members of the Academy of Culinary Arts, are involved in delivering this programme to nearly 1,000 schools all over the country to introduce children to real food and help them to appreciate the joys of cooking and eating. Lessons in schools are followed up with pupils visiting professional kitchens.

â- Active Kids Get Cooking: Supported by Sainsbury's, the Design and Technology Association and the British Nutrition Foundation, the Active Kids Get Cooking scheme provides up-to-date information and resources to support teachers in running food activities in schools.

â- Focus on Food: Set up in 1998 against a decline in cookery skills coupled with the rise in health problems caused by poor diets, the Focus on Food campaign is a charity that believes cooking is a key life skill, which everyone should be taught. The campaign's five Cooking Buses visit schools and communities all over the UK, teaching more than 40,000 children and training 2,500 teachers each year, free of charge.

â- PhunkyFoods: More than 700 primary schools use the Phunky Foods programme to teach healthy eating and physical activity messages through art, drama, music, play and hands-on food experience.


Have a range of branded open-bellied posters on which you can highlight specific promotions, easily and cheaply.


On busy days hand out vouchers for money-saving offers to be redeemed on quiet days - eg, 20p off a £1.50 meal on Friday because that is the day you are most likely to want the extra business.


Consider introducing staggered meal times to reduce queues and create a less crowded and stressed environment for students to eat and enjoy their lunch.

As part of a package of new initiatives, Airedale High School in Castleford, West Yorkshire, which has just over 1,000 pupils, introduced three split lunch services. Year seven students eat their lunch at 12.35pm, years eight and nine at 12.05pm, and years 10 and 11 at 1.05pm. As a result, take-up of lunches has risen from an average of 586 meals served daily in 2000 to 976 in 2009.

"Such a major change to the school timetable can only be achieved by the school and the caterer working together, and in our case we have an excellent relationship with the school," says Steve McGuiness, catering manager, Kingswood Catering, the in-house catering operation of Wakefield Metropolitan District Council.


Use calendar dates and special events - such as Halloween, St Valentine's Day and the World Cup - to inspire a themed menu. A boost to uptake on one day can have a positive impact on long-term footfall. The average number of meals served in the 190 primary schools in Oxfordshire is 11,500. This increased to 20,000 on Red Nose Day.


Run teaser campaigns, with a build-up of information about a specific event over a number of days or weeks. Creating awareness takes times, so build up the message you want to get across prior to an event.


Use good-quality marketing materials: there is no point selling a first-class catering service using badly designed posters, printed on poor-quality paper. A professional-looking poster with stunning photographs will increase the customers' perception of school meals.


School caterers will be able to boost their marketing activities with the help of Marketing and Design Generator, an off-the-shelf marketing resource, which is being launched by the School Food Trust on 29 September. Posters, letters, stickers and online adverts with fun themes and tailor-made designs will be available to help schools market promotions and activities in the dining room.


To prevent children in primary schools arriving at the lunch counter and finding their favourite dish has run out, operate the wristband pre-ordering system. Children make their food choice on arrival in school and are given a coloured wristband to correspond to a specific dish. They, then, redeem the band for the right meals, making for easier menu planning and fewer disappointed children.


Ensure products are placed in the best place for maximum return by putting the dish with the highest cash profit in the most prominent position on the counter. The cash profit generated is more important than the gross profit.


Take a tip from supermarkets and place lower-cost impulse purchasing options adjacent to the till. This will help increase customer spend.


Enter awards aimed at school and public sector caterers. Winning provides a marvellous public relations opportunity, and will restore the confidence of parents and the local media in the school and in the service you provide. Debbie Mumford's success in being named School Chef of the Year by the Local Authority Caterers Association resulted in articles in local newspapers (see panel).


The introduction of a cashless catering system can improve the efficiency of a school meal service enormously, resulting in a boost to uptake. An independent review of cashless catering systems, published by the School Food Trust in July 2009, highlights numerous benefits of installing such a system including the removal of the stigma of free school meals; a reduction in queues; the ability for parents to monitor their children's eating habits; fewer cases of bullying; and a more efficient system for collecting data on the number and types of meals served.

Some schools now operate a biometric fingerprint system which eliminates the problems caused by lost, stolen and damaged cards.

View the review's full report here >>


Make it easier for parents to pay for school meals by offering opportunities to pay online. When headteachers allow payment of school meals only at the start of each half term, it makes it difficult for parents to buy into the catering service. Many parents want the option of choosing the service for much shorter periods, even daily. As well as facilitating payment of meals, www.parentpay.com will display nutritional data for school lunches. Meal numbers have risen by up to 10% in schools where this system has been introduced.


Use a celebrity to promote the healthy eating message - think of the impact Jamie Oliver has had on the school meals service. Sports stars are particularly effective at promoting the benefits of healthy eating. Olympic hurdler Colin Jackson will be explaining why adopting a good balance between food and exercise is good for teenagers during this year's National School Meals Week which is on 9-13 November.


While there has been a major shift towards freshly preparing the various elements of a school lunch, caterers can enhance their offering by making use of a number of new products which comply fully with the nutritional standards and appeal to young consumers.

One such item is Love Joes marinated chicken, which can be used as a topping on jacket potatoes, as a base for curry, as a cold filling in sandwiches and baguettes or as a hot filling in tortilla wraps. Flavours include lemon pepper, tikka, piri piri, Mediterranean and Chinese.

Love Joes is so popular in the 22 secondary schools for which Carole Fischer, area manager of Shropshire County Council's Shire Services, is responsible that she says it would be difficult now to take it off the menu. "It is a good-quality product, full of protein, and low in fat which meets the new guidelines with no compromise," she says.

Support from manufacturers is vital to ensure caterers maximise the potential of a product and in the case of Love Joes, this is forthcoming.

"The Love Joes team is extremely helpful, offering the services of their demo chefs to help us promote new flavours and working with our catering managers to discuss ideas and new menus," says Fischer.

For further information, see www.lovejoes.co.uk


Carefully consider the diverse ethnic mix of pupils found in some schools when planning menus. Contract caterer Paubulum recently won the contract to feed 670 pupils at Cranford Park Primary School in Hayes, Middlesex - one of the largest primary schools in the country. With pupils drawn from a wide range of ethnic heritages - 36 in total, and with a large number of Asian, Sikh, Muslim and West Indian children - Paubulum has tailored the menu to ensure there is no beef or pork and a halal option available on certain days of the week. Tastings are being held for pupils and parents to promote the menu and Paubulum is working closely with the school to link the menu to the curriculum.


Reward students for selecting healthy options and meal deals by signing up to PukkaStuff. Points can be redeemed against products online such as mobile phone topâ€'ups, free texts and discounts on clothes. For further information, visit www.pukkastuff.co.uk


In secondary schools, think about replacing a single traditional service counter with a food court which allows for several service points. Food courts help to break up long queues - a problem in many schools - as well as offer students more food options. They have been introduced into six of the 22 secondary schools in Shropshire looked after by Carole Fischer at Shire Services.

"The shorter queues help to keep the students inside the school gates at lunchtime," says Fischer. "Introducing the food courts has made the students feel grown up and more in control of their lunch choices, as well as resulting in increased uptake and better behaviour."

The Marches School & Technology College in Oswestry, a secondary school with 1,270 pupils, now offers four service points in the dining hall including a traditional meal counter; a healthy snack bar serving salads, hot filled baguettes and yogurts; a deli bar where students can select made-to-order sandwiches from a selection of six fillings and different breads; and two drinks stations serving coffees, frozen juices and thick milk shakes.

Since the introduction of the food court, average daily income in the dining room at The Marches during June 2009 was £811, up from £654 during the same period last year - an increase of 24%.


Invite parents into school to sample the food. At Paget Primary School in Birmingham, which has 206 pupils, parents were welcomed to the launch of a new kitchen and to taste the food. Despite what they had previously thought, they could see it was high-quality food and offered good value for money. The taster session, along with the refurbishment, led to an increase in take-up of 200 meals per week, with a particular increase among children eligible for free school meals.


Encourage the take-up of free school meals. The School Food Trust says that one in five families (22%) on a low income are not checking if they are entitled to free school meals and could be throwing away food worth £700 a year for their family. When asked what would encourage them to take up the offer of a free school lunch, 38% of parents said better promotion was the answer. For more information, visit: www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/content.asp?ContentId=599


Introduce meal deals to encourage secondary students to select a healthy, balanced meal. The Royal Docks Community, a secondary school with 1,100 pupils in the London Borough of Newham, offers two meal-deal options. The "main meals" offer includes two items: a rice or pasta-based dish or a traditional set meal, plus a fruit- or dairy-based dessert or drink. The "lite bites" offer includes three items: for example a sandwich or wrap, fruit- or dairy-based dessert and a fruit or milk drink. All meal deals are priced at £1.60, which is equivalent to the value of a free school meal.

As a result, the school has achieved a 40.6% take-up for school meals - a lift of 6% on previous figures, and a free school meals take-up of 87%.


*Overcome the perennial problems of queues and bottlenecks in the dining room by making the kitchen and dining space more efficient. Set up a working party of key stakeholders to look at ways of changing the layout of the kitchen and servery, for minimal financial outlay. AFresh Look at Efficient Kitchens and Dining Spaces* guide can be downloaded from the School Food Trust at: www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/doc_item.asp?DocCatId=9&DocId=112


Primary school pupils respond well to rewards. Rewards introduced as part of a whole-school approach to healthy eating at Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a small primary school in the North Yorkshire Dales, has helped boost uptake of meals from 50% to nearly 100%.

A sticker reward scheme is in place - stickers are awarded by the pupil servers on each table for good behaviour, while a raffle ticket reward system involves the lunchtime supervisor giving raffle tickets to children displaying good manners or behaviour. The raffle is drawn every Friday with a small prize given. And finally, a gold table has been introduced with a gold cloth, place mats and flowers being awarded each week to the best-behaved children on the cleanest table.


Ensure catering staff have the skills and knowledge they need to provide tasty, healthy and nutritionally-compliant school lunches by providing them with essential training. The School FEAST (Food Excellence And Skills Training) provides all the training needs for everyone involved in the school meals service through further education colleges and private and employer-led training providers. To find out what training is available, go to www.schoolfeast.co.uk


Children who cook are more likely to be inspired to eat a freshly cooked school lunch. One of the key aims of the Let's Get Cooking network of healthy cooking clubs for children is that 50% of participants will increase their intake of nutritionally balanced foods. It is hoped that more than 1.1 million children and their family members will increase their cooking skills through the 5,000 clubs expected to be set up by 2012 following a £20m grant from the Big Lottery Fund. For further information, see: www.letsgetcooking.org.uk


Encourage teaching staff to eat with the pupils and students. Not only does it set a good example of eating a healthy meal, it is also an opportunity for the staff to engage with the children in a more informal environment than the classroom.

"It helps to build a good relationship between staff and pupils and establish model behaviour for the dining room," says Hugh Bellamy, headteacher of George Pindar Community Sports College (see below).


Introduce organic food - parents generally love the idea that ingredients served to their children have been grown without pesticides. If the catering budget will not stretch to a menu composed entirely of organic produce, think about using them one or two days a week.

Kingham Primary School in Kingham, Oxfordshire, serves a 100% organic menu every Friday using produce from the local organic farm, Daylesford Organics. Ingredients used include minced beef, diced chicken, seasonal fruit and vegetables, as well as dried goods such as pasta, flour and sugar. Shepherd's pie, tomato and basil pasta, and apple crumble are just some of the dishes served on a Friday, when an average of 80 pupils, out of a total of 198, eat lunch - the busiest session of the week.

The close relationship the school has with Daylesford has led to the children visiting the farm to help them understand the benefits of organic, seasonal and local foods.


Parents also like to see more local produce on menus. Introducing meat into 40 schools from farms within Oxfordshire has been a key factor in increasing take-up figures throughout the county. "We have worked closely with parents on this as it is very much what they want to see," says Les Redhead of Oxfordshire County Council's catering arm, Food with Thought.

The average take-up figure in these schools is now 50%, while in one school - Holy Trinity in Chipping Norton - it is 75%. The average take-up figure across the 190 primary schools throughout the county is 32%.


Sign up to the Food for Life Partnership and give your footfall a boost. The £17m lottery-funded partnership, led by the Soil Association and supported by the Focus on Food Campaign, Garden Organic and the Health Education Trust, is proving to have a significant impact on reversing the decline in uptake of school meals.

Schools achieving the Food for Life Partnership criteria - with a bronze, silver or gold rating - are experiencing an average of 16% increase in the number of meals served. More than 1,100 schools (234 secondary, 822 primary and 59 special) are now working towards the Food for Life's targets of 75% unprocessed food, 50% local food and 30% organic foods.

Bath & North East Somerset has been one of the most successful local authorities to participate in the partnership with all 15 primary schools in the area achieving the bronze mark. Two schools have been awarded the silver mark and St John's C of E Primary School in Midsomer Norton, where uptake among the 400 pupils has risen from 32% to 42%, has become the first school in the country to achieve the gold award.

Louise Bizley, catering manager for Bath & North East Somerset Council, says the partnership has been a key initiative in encouraging a whole-school approach to healthy eating, resulting in more children eating a hot school lunch.

"The whole-school approach helps to involve the cooks and the lunchtime supervisors with educating and encouraging the children to try different foods." For more details on the Food for Life partnership, go to www.foodforlife.org.uk


Raise the profile of school meals by getting involved in British Food Fortnight, which runs from 19 September to 4 October. This year's event is challenging schools to use British seasonal food to design and create healthy menus offering a balance of the key food groups and a least two portions that count towards our five-a-day. The 110 most creative health-conscious menus will win their school a set of Kenwood cooking equipment. Closing date for entries is 16 October.

For further information, see www.lovebritishfood.co.uk.

Taking part in British Food Fortnight is a fantastic opportunity to engage children with the provenance of local food, according to Liz Colbourne catering manager at King's Hall School, a preparatory school for 450 pupils in Taunton, Somerset..

"Dishes we served last year included autumn chicken feast with sage and thyme dumplings, new potatoes, minted peas and braised celeriac, followed by jam tart and custard," she says.


Don't break the Direct Marketing Code of Conduct. Be aware of the requirements of marketing to under-16s, some of which require parental approval. View the full details here >>


National School Meals Week - running from 9 to 13 November 2009 - is a key opportunity to promote healthy eating in schools, throughout England, Scotland and Wales. The event has been running since 1993 and is organised by the Local Authority Caterers Association, with the support this year of the School Food Trust and Association of Service Solutions In Scotland Facilities Management.

As well as boosting the take-up of school meals, it is hoped that the week will make healthy eating fun and enjoyable for primary school pupils, promote regular exercise so that pupils understand - together with eating sensibly - the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle, help pupils and parents learn more about cooking healthy meals, and encourage pupils to say "thank you" to their school caterers for the meals they cook for them.

Schools, caterers and local authorities can join in with a host of organised activities - or can set up their own events. Primary school pupils will be encouraged to learn new cooking skills, while secondary school students can win up to £350 for shooting a 15-30 second commercial aimed at promoting healthy school food to their friends.

A host of resources to help schools and caterers plan events can be downloaded from the National School Meals Week website at www.iloveschoolmeals.co.uk. Much of the information will continue to be available throughout the year following the event to help everyone sustain a high profile for healthy school meals.

The most popular main course and dessert served by school caterers will be announced on 9 November, the first day of National School Meals Week. Voting for the top dishes, from a shortlist of school meals selected by a group of local authority caterers from across the country, is currently taking place until the end of October. Cast your vote here >>

South Tyneside Council is one of the first local authorities to formulate its plans for National School Meals Week. Its events include school caterers inviting secondary and primary school children to join them in cooking events, a sponsored fun run and walk with primary school pupils around Monkton Stadium in Jarrow in aid of a local children's charity, and a fun lunch in which all pupils and students throughout the borough's four secondary, 48 primary, eight nursery and six special schools will be encouraged to dress up and decorate their counters, with a prize for the winning kitchen of a meal in the local college restaurant.

"Through the publicity created by National School Meals Week we get a lot of children eating lunch who would not normally do so," says Carolyn Hough, area catering manager for South Tyneside Catering Services. The take-up figure for school meals in the borough for 2008-09 was 66.7% in primary and 43.4% in secondary schools.


The School Food Trust set up the Million Meals campaign in early 2008 to increase the number of children eating school meals by one million per day up to 4.2 million by 2010, which would be equivalent to every school in the country increasing its uptake of meals by 4%. If achieved, it will increase the take-up of school meals to more than 50%.

The King's School in Grantham, Lincolnshire, has joined the campaign to great affect. When bursar Peter Kirkbride arrived at the boy's state grammar school two-and-a-half years ago, the dining room was dingy, the kitchen contained equipment that was falling apart and the lunch take-up was less than 10%. Today, as a result of a £220,000 investment - jointly funded by Lincolnshire County Council and the school's own trust fund - King's now has a new kitchen and dining room and a take-up figure of about 25%. "With the new year seven students this month, we expect that figure to rise again and continue to increase," Kirkbride says.

Improvements include a new cashless payment system, four payment points instead of one, two televisions screening Sky Sports and BBC News, the opportunity for students to serve themselves and return for seconds and a coffee bar for sixth-formers. The kitchen now also supplies four local primary schools with lunch providing a welcome revenue stream for King's.

The King's School was a recent winner of the School Food Trust's School of the Month competition, recognising its efforts and achievements with a £5,000 cheque.

Kirkbride says that the prize money has been used to extend the cashless system by purchasing a cash loader and two new cashless tills. "This will help reduce queues further, improve school meal take-up and create a calmer atmosphere in the dining room."

View more information on the Million Meals campaign here >>


Giving the students ownership of improvements to the dining room at George Pindar Community Sports College in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, has been a key element of its success. From the outset they were included in a task group - along with parents, teacher and governors - to lead change.

As a result many of their suggestions are now in place, including the decor and colour scheme, a DVD screen and surround-sound system showing healthy eating messages, school events and music videos; the Georgios brand name - based on the founder with an Italian twist - selected through a competition among pupils to reflect the new bistro style-dining space; and a carpet to deaden the noise.

Georgios is now regarded as a relaxing place where the students want to be and eat the healthy dishes created by head chef, Mark Bramsden, who spent his earlier career at the Ritz and the Dorchester hotels in London.

The school, which has 850 students, now regularly serves 600 every day, compared with 150 before the improvements were initiated.

"Students led the project and it is now the students who are reaping the benefits," says Felicity Davis, assistant headteacher and healthy school co-ordinator.


Caterers seeking inspiration for delicious, healthy dishes to serve to students can garner a wealth of ideas from the inspiring website www.catering4schools.com.

Set up by St Aidan's Church of England High School in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, the best thing about the site is knowing that all 400 or so recipes listed has been successfully served and enjoyed by the 1,950 students and 120 staff at the comprehensive school. Each recipe, which comes with a full nutritional analysis and photograph, can be scaled up to the exact number of portions required.

A 12-month subscription to the website costs £195 plus VAT for secondary schools and £100 plus VAT for primary schools.

The website was developed by the school following the dramatic improvements in its catering operation since 2001 when an average of 250 students bought a meal. Today the average daily income on food is £3,700-£4,000 with about 1,850 (more than 90%) of students purchasing food throughout the day, while the take-up for lunch is 80%.

Radical changes to the catering at St Aidan's were initiated by deputy headteacher Steve Hatcher on a day the national news reported a rise in childhood obesity and he walked through the dining hall to see fat dripping off pizzas. "I immediately decided that this was not going to happen on my watch," he says.

The appointment of Trevor Whitehead, a chef with 25 years' experience in restaurants and hotels kickstarted the improvements, which have included a dedicated whole- school approach as well as the development of four dining areas including a separate space for year seven students, a main restaurant with 250 seats for years eight to 11, a deli bar for up to 150 and a sixth-form café for 250 which also operates a breakfast club and an after-school snack bar. Where there was previously eight part-time catering staff, there is now a team of more than 30 including a two bakers, a bread-maker and a nutritionist - all of whom are regarded as integral members of the school staff.

"I cannot over-emphasise the positive impact the catering has had on the behaviour of the students and the success of the school - it touches every aspect of school life," says Hatcher.

The catering operation at St Aidan's has recently been rewarded by winning the Best School Dinners accolade in the inaugural Times Educational Supplement School Awards.

(Serves 50 secondary pupils)

  • 75ml olive oil
  • 30g garlic purée
  • 2kg chicken breast
  • 1kg mango
  • 37g fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 3 oranges, juice and zest
  • 710g mayonnaise
  • 325g natural yogurt
  • 2.5kg lettuce, shredded
  • 1kg cucumber, sliced
  • 1.3kg tomato, sliced


Mix together the olive oil and garlic purée. Coat the chicken breasts with the oil and garlic and leave to marinate overnight in the fridge. Lay the chicken breasts on a tray and roast slowly until a core temperature of 80°C is achieved. For the dressing, add the tarragon along with the orange juice and zest to the mayonnaise and natural yogurt. Stir well and combine with the chicken and mango.

To serve: lay the chicken and mango on a bed of lettuce and garnish with the cucumber and tomato.

â- Recipe from www.catering4schools.com


Diversity and creativity in menus is vital for a successful school meals service, according to Tim Fletcher, head chef at Beechen Cliff, a comprehensive school for 1,100 boys in Bath. "It is also important for keeping me and the rest of the catering staff interested," he says.

"We want the dining hall to become an extension of the classroom, somewhere that pupils and teacher have the opportunity to try new ingredients, textures and flavours, providing an insight into the diversity of food."

While most schools operate a two- or three-week menu cycle, Fletcher set himself the challenge of creating new dishes for every day of the summer term. This he achieved, but in future, he will intersperse the menu with old favourites such as lasagne and chili con carne.

Dishes he has served up include moules marinières, chicken piri piri, pigeon pie and pheasant casserole. Fletcher, who heads a catering team of 10, has close contact with his suppliers to ensure he is able to buy in quality, seasonal produce at keen prices. On average, the take-up of meals at Beechen Cliff is 50%.

â- Beechen Cliff School won the 2008 Caterer and Hotelkeeper/CEDA competition to win a £60,000 kitchen.


(Serves 10)

  • 10ml olive oil
  • 2 large lemons (pulp, juice and zest)
  • 10g rosemary sprigs
  • Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  • 5g garlic, minced
  • 5g fennel seeds
  • 10 portions of skinless chicken (depending on size, we usually give two drumsticks, two inner fillets or one leg or one thigh per portion)


Preheat oven to 170°C. Place all the ingredients, other than the chicken, into a blender and liquidise. Thoroughly coat the chicken pieces and then set aside for an hour or two. Place on baking trays and then roast until cooked. If within budget, skinless and boneless breast fillets could be used and grilled as opposed to roasted.


Food has not only got to taste good, but it has also got to look good when catering for young children, according to Debbie Mumford (right) of Devon Catering & Cleaning Services, the winner of this year's School Chef of the Year title, organised by the Local Authority Caterers Association.

"Children eat with their eyes, so presentation is very important," says Mumford, who cooks for two schools: Ermington Community Primary School and Holbeton Primary School. She is based at Ermington, which has 140 pupils and a 50% take-up of lunches, from where meals are delivered daily to Holbeton, where 60% of the 85 pupils eat lunch.

As well as winning top marks for looking enticing, Mumford's dishes also impressed the judges for being healthy, tasty and creative.

Faced with the task of creating a main course and dessert that would appeal to an 11-year-old child, for £1.10 per head, Mumford produced salmon and herb fish balls with a cucumber, spring onion, red pepper and yogurt dressing, followed by a butternut squash cake with a cream cheese topping.


INGREDIENTS (Serves four)

  • 500g salmon pieces
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2tsp parsley
  • 2tsp coriander
  • 1/2tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper, pinch of each
  • 2 spring onions
  • 50g cucumber
  • 50g red pepper
  • 50g natural yogurt
  • 500g potato
  • 10ml oil
  • 60g mixed salad leaves
  • 15ml balsamic vinegar
  • 88g cherry tomatoes


Preheat oven to 180°C. Chop up salmon and mix with lemon zest, herbs and seasoning; shape into four balls. Refrigerate for 15 minutes before cooking in oven for 10 minutes. Finely chop spring onions, cucumber and red pepper, and mix with yogurt. Grate potato, dry thoroughly, make into flat cakes - shaped into sails - and shallow fry. Mix balsamic vinegar with 2tsp of lemon juice to make dressing. Toss leaves in dressing. Bake tomatoes in oven for 10 minutes. Assemble dish: place salmon balls on plate with dressed salad, baked tomatoes and potato cake, or secure potato with cocktail stick.


  • 84g butternut squash
  • 84g self-raising flour
  • 84g soft brown sugar
  • 1/4tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4tsp mixed spice
  • 40ml vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp caramel dessert sauce
  • 50g cream cheese
  • 1/2 orange, zest and juice
  • 25g icing sugar
  • To decorate: butternut squash stars


Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Grease muffin tray. Peel and deseed butternut squash, chop roughly, cook and mash. Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. Add butternut squash, vegetable oil, egg and caramel dessert sauce to dry ingredients and mix to combine. Spoon mixture into muffin tray and bake in oven for 20-25 minutes. Mix cream cheese with orange zest, half the juice and icing sugar. Decorate the muffins when cool with icing and stars cut from slices of butternut squash.


Creating a pleasant dining space is just as important as serving top-quality healthy meals when it comes to increasing the take-up of school lunches.

While some improvements can be achieved with minimal financial outlay - a fresh lick of paint and the hanging of stunning paintings by GCSE and A level art students can go a long way to revitalising a lacklustre space - other dining rooms may need a more radical overhaul. If this is the case, then a school will need to explore the wide range of funding and grants which are available to help improve school food.

For further information, see: www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/content.asp?ContentId=343

A dining space that lacked cohesion and atmosphere - with permanent seating for just 16 and a further 24 at mobile tables in a hallway - was one of the main reasons Applemore College, a secondary school in Southampton with 630 students, had a lunch take-up of only 22%.

With funding provided by Hampshire County Council Catering Services and the School Food Trust, the dining space was redesigned to incorporate four unused classrooms adjacent to the dining area. At the same time, new equipment, including a dishwasher, was installed in the kitchen to improve efficiency and capacity.

The new dining hall and kitchen were relaunched on 20 April this year, with a free meal trial successfully serving 500 students - 80% of the school's population. Since then there has been a 25% to 32% increase in takings, a particularly positive step for the summer term when the take-up of meals traditionally falls.

A key element of the refurbishment was the involvement of the students in the design. The Sorrell Foundation - a charity with the aim of inspiring creativity in young people - facilitated meetings between the architects, Spence, Harris, Hogan, and the school. A team from the school, including 10 students, were invited to London to visit a number of eateries, such as Hamburger Union, Patisserie Valerie, Café Neo and Wahaca, to gain inspiration for their own dining space.

The result was the creation of a semi-industrial space with a streetwise atmosphere, inspired by new steel beams, bright and funky graphics, and an outdoor-in theme. A cheap and durable covered outdoor seating area was also created by using a shipping container, reflecting Applemore's location in the port of Southampton.

MORE ARTICLES ON SCHOOL MEALSBack to school: know your nutrients

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