With the cost of food increasing, schools may be faced with the decision to reduce portion sizes or compromise the quality of the meals they provide to the children by using cheaper ingredients. We are in favour of…well, neither! A healthy, balanced and nutritious lunch is vital for a child’s growth and development and the food they consume in school may even be all they are eating that day! As the budget for universal infant free school meals has barely increased since 2014, this article shares some tips to help caterers provide low cost meals that are nutritious, and align with the School Food Plan.
Half & Half
If you are making a batch of cottage pie, chilli con carne, burrito filling or bolognese sauce, use half the meat you would usually and bulk the rest out with lentils, beans or peas. This ensures children are still getting enough protein and red lentils can also be well hidden, if you’re worried about those fussy eaters, and can even make great sauces and soups.
Tinned Fish Over Fresh
According to the School Food Plan, fish should be served every week and oily fish once (or more) every three weeks. It’s perfectly fine to use canned fish instead of fresh. Canned mackerel, for example, is a great oily fish that can be incorporated into kids' diets. It can be mixed into pasta or made into fishcakes!
Choose Cheaper Cuts of Meat
As long as quality isn’t compromised, choosing cheaper cuts can help you save money. For example, chicken thighs are cheaper than breasts (and often tastier). Regarding nutrition, thighs may have a little more fat and a bit less protein, however the difference isn’t that significant!
Shop In Season
When it comes to fruits and veggies that you serve for the pupils, it’s often cheaper to shop in season. Variety is key as, according to the School Food Plan, at least three different veggies and three different types of fruit should be served each week (with at least one portion of fruit and one portion of veg served everyday). Buying seasonally will often mean they are fresher, sweeter and taste better too!
You Don’t Need as Many Options as You Think
Three different options a day is plenty. Quite often, caterers provide too many options that just aren’t needed, creating extra manpower, producing more waste, and using money that they don’t have. We visit schools where there are two meat options, one vegetarian option, jacket potato, sandwiches and soup, and then four different dessert options. A meat, veggie and deli option is enough, and having just a yoghurt or a piece of fruit as the only dessert choices for some days is also perfectly fine!