Educating children to eat healthy school meals Delivering tasty, appealing food on a tight budget, which adheres to School Food Plan requirements, is a tough job. It’s a proven fact that good nutrition can help academic performance – and educating children about healthy eating will undoubtedly help reduce obesity – so what role can school caterers play?

Whole school approach Whilst it is often down to teachers and catering staff to educate children about healthy eating, the first thing that can be easily put into action is effective portion control. By serving children a recommended amount, school caterers can immediately have an impact, says Aine Melichar, brand manager for Kerrymaid. She continues: “A long-term solution is Kerrymaid’s ‘Whole Food, Whole School’ approach, which we believe is key to the sustainability of school meals. By incorporating the whole school, healthy eating can be woven into the educational programme, and include everything from growing and cooking food, to an increased focus on education around seasonal and fresh produce.”

Simple shortcuts There are a wealth of schoolscompliant products available to help time-pressed cooks rustle up magnificent meals from flour-based mixes to ready-to-use sauces, stocks and gravies – so take advantage of what’s on offer. Mark Rigby, executive chef at Premier Foods, explains: “A traditional stock such as beef or chicken can take up to eight hours to make from scratch which can be a challenge for many school kitchens. Stocks and sauces can also provide a base which gives caterers the opportunity to unleash their creativity and add their own twist, no matter their level of expertise.”

The Mexican wave Taking inspiration from the Mexican craze which has swept the nation over the past few years, specific menu items from the cuisine are now transforming into trends of their own – one in particular and a must have on the menu this summer is tacos. Not only are they the perfect light bite for pupils wishing to get back outside and on the playing field, but they can be moulded and transformed with a variety of flavours to suit the needs and requirements of different diets, lifestyle choices and pupil preferences. Fill tacos with pulled pork marinated in Texan barbecue ready-to-use sauce, summer corn, crunchy salad leaves and finally top with a helping of the fresh chunky salsa – straight from the jar cold with no additional cooking required – and caterers have provided a nutritious and popular student meal. For vegetarians and vegans, tacos can be filled with grilled courgettes, aubergine and red peppers whilst caterers can still top the tacos with the same Chunky Salsa as the non-vegetarian/vegan mains.

The lure of the High Street For menu inspiration, school caterers should look to the high street, which is full of exciting flavours and a wealth of choice. Research shows that when eating out, nearly three quarters of consumers expect to be able to customise their order, so secondary schools should tailor their offering to accommodate this, with customisable ‘deli-style’ sandwich offers, baked potato and salad bars. “A baked potato bar, with a range of tempting hot and cold toppings, puts students in control of their own menu options,” says Marie Medhurst of Bannisters Farm. “Try offering familiar fillings like cheese or tuna, as well as some on-trend recipes such as pulled pork, barbecue chicken or fajita-style beans. Baked potatoes can even have a pizza theme with herby tomato sauce, mozzarella and favourites such as pepperoni, ham, mushroom, peppers and sweetcorn.”

Ben Bartlett, celebrity chef and brand ambassador for Lion sauces, adds: “Be inspired by street food trends, with pulled meats served in interesting breads like brioche buns, floury rolls, baguettes or soft wraps. It’s simple to create a big batch of pulled pork or chicken – just slow cook the meat with a diced onion and some American Smokey BBQ sauce or Hickory BBQ Sauce. Serve it in a bun or wrap with coleslaw packed with shredded carrot and cabbage for a Tex-Mex classic that also sneaks in some fresh veg.”

Whilst burgers and hotdogs may be frowned upon, with a little creativity these can be tailored to fit the school meal criteria. “Swap your chips for sweet potato fries or jacket potatoes and bring the flavour with a build your own burger concept, a choice of freshly prepared Mari Base infused slaws or condiments to complement your patties,” suggests Bob McDonald Major’s consultant development chef for Ireland.

Feed them fibre Focusing on education, one of Kara’s most popular products is its pioneering high fibre bun, containing added wheat fibre and wheat bran – visually appearing like a standard white bun but containing the same amount of fibre as a brown. Education account manager Claire Mellor said: “The high fibre bun can be used to create a variety of sandwich options and on average it contributes to 69% of a child’s daily fibre allowance, which in turn brings itself a lot of nutritional benefits.”

In addition, Kara has several balanced bread products, including Half & Half sliced bread, which combines both white and wholemeal flour.

Pizza Perfection Pizza is a firm favourite with school children and readymade pizza manufacturers have created schools -compliant versions to satisfy the tastes of youngsters, as well as nutritional guidelines. Emma Haworth, of Dr Oetker, says: “Our Balanced Choice pizza not only complies with nutritional guidelines by keeping fat and saturated fat levels to a minimum, but it also maintains the signature taste that has made Chicago Town the nation’s favourite pizza brand.”

For bespoke pizzas, Pan’Artisan has created two pizza bases especially for schools, specifically with children’s nutritional needs in mind – a ‘Deep Pan White with Added Fibre’ and a ‘Deep Pan Brown with 25% Wholemeal’. “ We regularly get requests from parents who want to know where they can buy our drinks out of school as their children love them so much! With parents having such high expectations we work tremendously hard on the formulations for all our school drinks making them meet the nutritional standards for schools.”

Meat-free school meals With increasing numbers of youngsters opting for vegetarian or vegan lifestyles, it’s important that school caterers offer a range of menu items that are suitable for those who don’t eat meat. Gordon Lauder, managing director of frozen food distributor Central Foods, says: “Meat-free sausages, burgers, meatballs and vegemince, made from soya, provide complete protein and can easily be served with salads, rice and other accompaniments. Very often they can be served as a hand-held snack, in a wrap or baguette, as well as in a dish that’s part of a sit-down meal – offering good versatile options for both food-togo and canteen-style dining.”

Fish for new ideas Research by Young’s Foodservice involving over 100 schools revealed that frozen fish is the most convenient format for schools to buy fish. Louise Clarke, business development manager for the education sector at Young’s Foodservice, says: “Our recent survey showed that uptake and cost are the two biggest challenges currently faced by school caterers. Taste was stated as the biggest barrier to schoolchildren eating more fish, especially when it comes to encouraging consumption of typically strong tasting oily fish, all of which highlights the importance of having a tasty solution that helps caterers to meet school food standard guidelines.” Young’s has launched a new microsite created entirely for schools, accessed via, designed to be a complete resource for school caterers, as well as teachers.

Good hydration Strict rules governing what children can drink at school means manufacturers have had to be creative. “It’s important to us to create tasty and healthy school compliant drinks for students that they will love but also we want parents to be confident that the drinks their children are consuming at school are fully compliant, contain no added sugar and the right amount of juice, says UK sales manager for Radnor Hills, Chris Sanders.