Is Universal Infant Free School Meals mission impossible?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????The weeks and months are certainly flying by, before we know it September will be upon us and all state funded infant and junior schools will be required to provide all reception, year 1 and 2 infant pupils with free school meals.

The Children’s Food Trust and LACA (Lead Association for CAtering in Education) have been running the national advice line for nearly two months now and while its clear many schools are ready for September others still have a lot to do with what can feel like a huge job.

So, is this mission really possible?

Here are five common issues we’ve been asked about and some practical tips to achieving success.

Managing change
This is going to mean changes on many levels. And changing things can put up barriers; people can feel threatened. So involve them from the outset. Find out what your pupils and parents want and what gets them excited, and work with that.

  • Start listening and start talking about it: communicate with everyone who will be affected – caterers, parents and children, teaching and supervisory staff.
  • Use your assemblies, website, letters, surveys and meetings to get their views and ideas, to explain your plan and the benefits it will bring.
  • Invite parents to sample a school meal perhaps on special event days, to encourage their support.

Dining spaces at full stretch
Chances are you can’t build a new one, so think about different ways to use the space you have.

  • Try improving the layout of tables and chairs to create a better flow.
  • Perhaps there are other spaces you can use. One school involved pupils in design ideas to transform four old classrooms into dining spaces, each with 40 seats, and at low cost. Pupils loved this sense of ownership.
  • Consider using outside spaces – especially during summer months.

Making time for everyone to eat
It’s one thing creating new space, but how do you create time? Yet it’s really important to allow children sufficient time to sit, eat and socialise during lunch. Try these ideas.

  • Stagger dining times for different year groups
  • Create a second servery or cutlery point to cut queuing time and bottlenecks
  • Introduce pre-ordering. Some primary schools let children choose their meal during registration and give them a coloured sticker, coloured wrist band or token to show when they collect their lunch.

Having enough staff to cope
More meals, more work, more hands needed on deck. How will you cope?

  • Think about ways the children can help. They love being in charge of jobs!
  • Ask the children to serve themselves. Even most infants can manage this. It can help them control their own portion sizes and reduce waste too
  • Give other children responsibilities for setting tables, collecting their own cutlery and clearing their own plates. One school found this saved 20 minutes of staff time every day.

Small kitchens or no kitchens
So where are you going to cook all these extra meals? Even with no kitchen, it is still possible.

  • Consider installing a ‘pod’ (mobile) kitchen as a fast, cost-effective solution
  • Bring food in from a hub kitchen, which may supply several smaller schools
  • Simplify your menus to simplify production processes
  • Find out what funding is available for your school.

There is also lots of advice and support including case studies from schools who have already made changes to their services on the Children’s Food Trust website at www.childrensfoodtrust.org.uk/schoolfoodplan/uifsm .

And don’t forget our advice line is open 8.30am to 5.00pm for more advice and help, so give us a call – it’s FREE! 0800 680 0080.

Jo Walker is a Children’s Food Advisor for the Children’s Food Trust and works in the project team for the UIFSM Advice Service.

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