What's On Tomorrow's School Menu

A comprehensive survey into what parents think about school meals has delivered some positive results for the sector recently. That being the overall majority are in agreement that caterers are doing a great job at fueling their children in a nutritionally positive way.

However, these findings also highlighted areas where families are looking for improvement when it comes to communication, meal choice and in particular how school menus are developed in the future.

The latest tranche of independent research, commissioned by Birds Eye Foodservice, showed that Improved clarity around school meals by sharing more knowledge or insight around what school children are eating or how they are choosing raises satisfaction.

As ever, ensuring the plate fits the pupil is a key aspect for many parents with the alternative of going hungry equating to a lowering sense of value in school meals as a whole.

In the pursuit of creating more exciting and exotic dishes in schools there is a temptation for caterers to become too adventurous with dishes and this can start to lead to wholesale rejection of school meals.

For that reason alone the key to success starts and ends with the menu itself as lack of appeal from the outset can have a knock on effect.

Therefore one challenge going forward, for the sector, is how to continually re-market ‘safe-bet’ meal choices by making them sound up to date without overstepping the mark.

As an example many younger children, or picky eaters in particular, may be put off instantly by a traditional favourite if the description of that dish becomes too elaborate or uses words they do not understand such as Frittata, Quesadilla or Fishwich.

In addition to how a simple dish is described, brands too, can have a positive role to play for the overriding majority of parents. Indicating an investment in quality and ‘surrogate’ care on the part of schools. The nature of the brand and its heritage in food quality has a key role to play in parent perceptions.

TIPS FROM PARENTS ON HOW TO IMPROVE MENUS

  • Highlight ‘home-made’ and ‘local sourcing’ where relevant
  • Highlight brands where they are being used on school menus
  • Keep the language simple and accessible so that kids understand the dish
  • Look at children’s menus and presentation ideas from the profit sector to see what could work well in schools
  • Ensure that ‘healthy choice’ options such as fish and vegetables are not eclipsed by a ‘treat food’ alternative
  • Pictorial representation of the dish can help younger children
  • Offer a voting system where children can choose their favourite dishes

Above all else though the survey clearly demonstrates that there is definitely an appetite amongst parents to explore whether meal planning can happen more online in future.

By interacting this way with school meal choice it makes the process more efficient and that advance planning ensures the child gets the meal s/he wants and parents sees the meal s/he eats.

In the near future ‘smart’ systems could even remember previous meal selections for individual pupils and automatically re-select them as menus rotate, even providing suggestions of dishes they might like based on choices in the past. Maybe the children will accept the advice of the system more easily than mummy knows best!

It’s also not too difficult to imagine an analysis at the end of each academic year, included in the school report, to show a nutritional breakdown of what your child has consumed within school to encourage healthier choices. Now there’s food for thought!

To arrange a meeting to discuss a full copy of this latest research, please contact
Justin Pearce at Birds Eye Foodservice on 07436 536814 or email justin.pearce@birdseye.co.uk