Fail to plan, plan to fail is a widely used mantra with a lot of truth in it. How do you react though when you’ve planned something and its still failed through no fault of your own? This was the predicament I found myself in early December last year, when the planned catering contract didn’t play out as had been intended and we had only three months left of the existing contract. With very limited options left on the table, but with a very positive outlook we decided to do our own catering. This isn’t for everyone, I completely get that, which is probably why I’ve never done it before in my previous schools. It would be absolutely impossible to do without an amazing Catering Manager. Staff, as always, are crucial to the success of initiatives, projects, school life and your own well-being! My working relationship with our Catering Manager has really grown as we worked together on this project and we are both really pleased with the first term.
We’ve already seen a large increase in the number of staff having school meals and an increase in the flexibility around the provision of hospitality, menu changes for Royal Wedding celebrations and sports days. We have also used offers from suppliers to test out new menu options (caution note re notifying parents of menu changes AND allergens). I personally have very little interest in food, cue steep learning curve, some of which I hope I’ve captured from our experience and so thought I would share:
- All catering crew were TUPE across from the original contractor.
- We’ve tried without success to appoint a Catering Apprentice, still considering our options.
- Nice opportunity to update and modernise the uniform.
- Encourage your Catering Manager to network with other school catering managers.
- Have a back up plan for if your cook goes ill or is on leave (ours works all year round because of our AYR Nursery) and make sure all the Catering Crew know how to work the ovens.
Other really important bits!
- Register with your local authority’s Environmental Health – they will visit unannounced to do a food hygiene inspection.
- Complete the Food Safety Management System/HACCP document.
- Update your COSHH records.
- Cost out your menu really well then monitor on a weekly basis, so if required quick changes can be implemented to avoid escalating costs. Make assumptions initially – when we have custard on the menu, we assume every child will have custard. Be aware of seasonal changes – summer terms tend to see an increase in packed lunches.
- Allow for a contingency to cover heavy kitchen equipment replacement or repair.
- Can you streamline the school’s waste collection with the kitchen’s waste collection now?
- We opted for a three week menu.
- Make the most of your Catering Manager’s knowledge about what the children choose at the counter.
- Ask the children what they would like on the menu – we had mixed results for this. Steak was a suggestion! One campus loves tuna pasta the other campus not so much. But overall it does give an insight and helps with the menu creation process.
- Create a varied menu within the Government School Meal Guidelines.
- Our lunch menu is linked to our afternoon tea menu for our Nursery children, we don’t want them having the same both sessions.
- We used CANVA to make the menu layout look appealing. Be mindful of the use of colour on your menu if you print large volumes.
- Add seasonal vegetables, rather than specifying which vegetable. This means more flexibility when prices change or suppliers struggle to supply broccoli (it has happened!)
Allergens – SO IMPORTANT!
- Build up a clear positive working relationship with your suppliers, so any changes in ingredients are promptly raised with you before you’ve accepted the item into your kitchen.
- Very different from what children don’t like!
- The Catering Manager has a file of all the children with allergies / intolerances with menus planned for each individual child.
- Network with others on Twitter. I’ve found @lhscookmanager and @theschoolchef positive and enthusiastic champions of school catering.
- Use social media to promote the school menu (apologies to all on Twitter for the three weeks of school dinner photos from me) parents can then see what the children are eating.
- Avoid converting to become an Academy and join a MAT at the same time as taking the catering in-house. It will make your headspin!
- As a dual campus school, we had to consider transport costs. It’s simply a taxi booked every day term time only. We could have used our school minibus but wanted to retain flexibility for other events every day.
Next steps for us
This is still incredibly early days for our new catering provision, so we are still learning. We are aspirational and enthusiastic though and looking to the future and are considering the following:
- Increasing the number of KS2 children having a hot dinner regularly.
- Family style dining – read in a @TheHopefulHT blog that at Auerus School all staff and students eat together. This is of interest to me but recognise I would need a considerable hall extension at one of our campuses.
- Consider whether our school kitchen could be a production kitchen for a smaller school.
- Attend a LACA Conference to learn more about school catering.
- Support the Catering Manager to enter school catering competitions – if she’ll let me persuade her!
- Chocolate pudding and mint green custard is on the Autumn menu – staff are v excited about this. Discussions already started about who will have the skin and who is disgusted by the thought of it!
If you are considering catering in-house good luck!
Academy Business Leader, St Anne’s Church Academy