Plant Based School Kitchens, a catering company serving plant-based gluten free and nut free school meals, are aiming for a plant-based gluten free kitchen in every school. Its first partnership has been with Our Lady of Sion School in Worthing, Sussex, and it is hoping to expand to other schools.

Gary Hardley, who runs the company with his wife Anna, says “Ethical eating and farming are vital to the longevity of the planet and feeding children in schools has too often been about profit rather than nutrition. There is a growing body of evidence that a plant-based diet is one of the healthiest for children, aiding academic performance through the provision of nutrient-rich meals.”

Plant Based School Kitchens is a new enterprise for the couple, who also operate the Vegan Street Food Company, a ‘grab and go’ outlet in Worthing. Gary says “We were approached by the school which was looking for a school caterer ‘outside the box’. We arranged a tasting for the senior teaching team and this was followed by a taster day with over 70 families taking part. As a result we were hired to provide hot meals to the school. If children want to eat meat, then they are welcome to bring packed lunches.”

Getting the parents on board is vitally important, according to Gary. “If you want to introduce plant-based cuisine, try and do it bit by bit. Get the parents involved by holding tastings with parents, children and teachers.”

All dishes are gluten free and nut free. Gary explains “Anna was diagnosed with dairy and wheat intolerances and was advised to follow a plant-based diet. When we started Vegan Street Food Company, we decided to offer a plant-based wheat free and dairy free menu, which is now nut-free and we continued this with the school meals service.”

Plant Based School Kitchens has its own staff, recruited for their knowledge of nutrition, plant-based cuisine and school lunches. The kitchen at the school hadn’t been used for many years so Gary purchased new catering equipment so they could cook on the premises “as we wanted to be part of the school and not an external contractor,” he says.

An array of dishes are on offer such as Cajun Tofu kebabs, Black Bean and Quinoa Meatballs in Barbecue Sauce, Toad in the Hole with roast potatoes, carrots and suede, Teriyaki Broccoli Tofu with Rice Noodles or BBQ Jackfruit Jackets with salad. Gary adds “We create special recipes. For shepherd’s pie we use lentils, carrots, peppers and onions as the base, add some shredded kale or spring greens to the lentil mince and serve it topped with a mash made from butternut squash, carrots and suede.”

In addition, the company operates a breakfast club for both the junior and senior schools. For the senior school, a break time service is available from the company’s “Plant Pod” mobile catering unit.

Feedback from students, teachers and parents has been encouraging. Steven Jeffery, Headteacher of Our Lady of Sion School, says “The take up of the school meals has been very positive and is growing week-on-week. Students of all ages enjoy the hot meals. For them, the most important factor is that it looks good, smells great and is tasty and the meals from Plant Based School Kitchens meet all these criteria. The introduction of breakfast and break time snacks have been well received by students and staff.”

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