How to be safe and efficient in school kitchens during the COVID-19 pandemic
If anyone is helping professionals prepare for the new normal in school catering, it’s LACA – The School Food People. LACA members provide 80% of the education catering service in England and Wales.
“Our members are at the heart of school food delivery, representing more than 3,300 organisations and individuals. Many of these have continued to off er services to vulnerable and key workers’ children throughout the COVID-19 crisis,” says National Chair of LACA Stephen Forster. “The food they have been providing has helped thousands of children through the difficult days of lockdown.”
“School caterers have seen more children gradually return to school and have been creating a variety of service offers to meet their needs, while navigating the challenges around social distancing,” he says.
Experts from across LACA’s team have put together a checklist that school caterers need to think about when it’s time to open up for hungry kids (and teachers) again.
Be prepared for change
The school food industry will have to scale up to the changing nature of society once schools reopen to all pupils. An increase in the number of children being entitled to free school meals is likely.
Social distancing is here to stay
LACA believes it could continue for another 12-18 months or until a vaccine is developed – so this will change the way we serve food in a practical sense. We also need to reassure parents we’re doing all we can.
Safety, in all its forms, is vital
We need to show that the food we provide is safe. This is why you need to be doubly focused on allergens and special diets, and on continuing to tackle issues such as childhood obesity.
School meals at home
For vulnerable children, school is their safe place and a nutritious meal is something they rely on. Think about providing free school meal food parcels to those who are entitled to them, to ensure that children continue to receive healthy and nutritious meals.
Think about table service
Long queues will be a thing of the past. Table service, with meals brought out to children, could be the new normal. Make sure your staffing rota reflects this.
Variety is important but not too much
Find space for hot meals, hampers, packed lunches or grab-and-go bags. But consider whether a single hot meal option and a cold choice is more economical in the early days.
Be creative with what you’ve got
Build menus around the flexibility to use stock items and ambient foods with a longer shelf life.
Premier Foods’ Mark Rigby shares his advice: “Children returning to school will want dishes they love and have missed, particularly as food could be the only thing that remains constant, with different teachers and classmates being likely due to social distancing guidelines.
“Keep it simple and focus on reducing the offer. School caterers should think about how they can serve pupils’ favourites in a safe way. For example, consider serving popular dishes such as sausage and mash and roast chicken in takeaway pots. The gravy means they stay warm, whether they’re served in the dining hall, or delivered to classrooms. Hot dishes are often simpler to cook at scale and the volume can be flexed to suit demand. For example, think about the labour involved in doing sausage and mash for 50 people versus sandwiches.
“Food standards and safety are a big concern for parents, on top of their children’s general welfare, so they need to be maintained during these uncertain times. In particular, caterers will need to pay closer attention to allergens and dietary requirements in their menus, especially if they are reducing options in an effort to ensure a simple and efficient lunch service. Think about using products like Bisto Gluten & Vegan Gravy with no declared allergens, Gluten Free Angel Delight Mousse and McDougalls Vegetarian Jelly Crystals, which can make a variety of dishes, suitable for all pupils.”
For the most up-to-date advice on school catering, please visit the Education and Childcare section on the government’s site.