Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was recently in the news after calling a ban on 2-for-1 pizza deals. It sparked a furious reaction, and once again reignited the conversation around his (in)famous school dinners campaign of the mid 2000s.
While perhaps the most high profile, Oliver’s School Dinners project was one of many in an area that’s been much discussed and campaigned on over the years. What exactly constitutes a healthy lunch, and how can pupils’ health be balanced against the limits of government funding? Did we need to cut access to free milk? Every generation will have different memories of their own school dining room; baby-boomers can probably remember stodgy meals comprising cheap meat and boiled puddings.
As the conversation continued down through the decades, fish paste sandwiches turned into Turkey Twizzlers, which gave way to British Farm Assured chicken fillets and salad. We’ve certainly come a long way since the first free school meals were served up in 1870s Manchester. Back then, they were given out in order to provide for ‘Destitute and badly nourished children’; now, the emphasis is on helping young people build strong bodies and sharp minds, the better to help with their learning.
It’s not just the food that’s changed. The free-for-all that was the school lunch queue could be riotous. 20 years ago, those without a packed lunch needed to get to the canteen fast if they were to be successful in picking up a portion of chips. Those days are gone too.
In 2018, pre-ordering technology has made the school lunch queue a much gentler affair. The children still need to line up, but any argy-bargy has been rendered pointless, since the food being served has already been selected and prepared. Thanks to online ordering via websites and apps, pupils and their parents are now able order their preferred meals at the start of the school week, while teachers can fill in any gaps for ‘pupils that forgot’ during morning registration. Once in the canteen, the children need simply scan their student cards or ‘tap in’ via a touchscreen before collecting their order.
The benefits for children and families are obvious – more control over the nutritional content of what their child eats, and far less boisterousness in the lunch queue.
For schools and catering staff, the benefits are even more pronounced. Prior knowledge of what meals need serving each week results in stock control efficiency gains, a big reduction in waste and potential revenue opportunities.
Moreover, by electronically recording each meal served, catering staff can quickly spot ordering patterns and adjust their menus accordingly. Knowing for certain that the salmon en croute isn’t popular means you can replace it with something that is. The result? Happier children, more efficient catering facilities and satisfied schools.
Nick Hucker is the CEO of Preoday.