Q: What do you get if you cross a bag of rubber wrist bands (the ones you get when you hand over your belongings in the changing room at the swimming pool), five minutes and some printed copies of your school lunch menu?
A: An answer to the question I’m most commonly asked when I’m out in primary schools: “How do I make our queues shorter?”
It’s an issue for most schools we visit, and one of the things that can really affect the number of children who opt for school meals. You can understand the dilemma: waiting ten minutes longer to eat by queuing up for a healthy school meal, or getting ten minutes more in the playground by wolfing down a quick sarnie from home – it’s no contest for an eight year old.
But it can be so easy to reduce the wait. Little things shave off minutes from the queue, and every minute counts at lunchtime (and for parents who don’t have time to be making packed lunches late at night). So give this one a try: get yourself a bag of those rubber wrist bands (they cost a tenner or so from sports shops). Make sure you’re sending menus home to parents so they can look at them in advance. At registration, every child having school meals is asked what dish they’re going for that day. Each child gets a band corresponding to that menu option – they bung it on their wrist and hand it in at the servery in exchange for their meal.
It takes a bit of getting used to, sure. Registration will take a bit longer while they get the hang of the process. But the time it can save in getting children through your dining room can be amazing – and you’re helping your cooks at the same time, by letting them know almost exactly how many portions they’re going to need of each dish. You’re doing parents a favour because they can talk to their child about which meal they’re going to order each day (and plan what’s for tea accordingly!). Encourage them to get the menu taped to the fridge and to make it part of the routine.
Oh and yes – your cook will always make a few extra. There’s always one who wants to change their mind, or one who prefers the look of your menu to the sandwich from home that’s gone soggy or warm. Let them have a taste. Once they’ve tried your meals, they may never look back…
Jayne is one of our Children’s Food Advisors who helps schools tackle all sorts of school meals issues and concerns – email her here.