Thursday, 30 January 2014

Preparing for Universal Infant Free School Meals

It’s now only a few months until schools will be required to offer free school meals to all pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

While many schools have great enthusiasm for the changes, there are also a number of schools who feel daunted by the challenge and don’t know where to start! PKL have been active in the education sector for a number of years, supplying a whole range of catering infrastructure solutions, so here are my top tips to get you started.


Kitchen Facilities

This is one of the greatest causes of worry at some schools, but this need not be the case. There is government funding in place to assist schools with procuring kitchen facilities, and although the timeline may seem short, I can assure you that there is plenty of time to have everything in place by September!

The first thing to do is calculate how many meals your kitchen will need to produce each day. It’s worth bearing in mind that the pilot schemes found that school meal take-up also increased in other year groups following the introduction of free school meals for infants.

You should then make a list of all your current catering equipment and facilities (if you already have some) so you can ascertain what you’ll need in order to provide the meals required. Now’s also the time to consider new menu options and ideas, and plan accordingly.

It might be that you need to start from scratch with a new kitchen building and catering equipment, or you may just need to upgrade existing buildings or equipment. Either way, help is available in terms of both funding and advice. Visit our dedicated website, schoolkitchens.com to see our school solutions and relevant funding info. There is also an excellent “Q&A for Head Teachers” page on the School Food Plan website, which should help answer a lot of the questions you may have.

PKL Kitchen Options: If you need to install a new school kitchen or extend an existing one, take a look at our KitchenPod options, or if you need to procure or upgrade your catering equipment, take a look at our specially-designed KitchenFM for Schools option.

PKL KitchenPodsDining Space

As well as your kitchen facilities, you should also consider how your dining space will cope with an increased take-up of school meals. You might need to think about options such as staggered lunchtimes or additional sittings in order to help tackle queues and congestion in the dining hall.

Now is also the time to think about the practicalities of your dining space and how it can be optimised. You may be fortunate enough to have a dedicated dining hall, or you may use other spaces such as the school hall or classrooms. Whatever your current setup, there are likely to be ways in which you can tweak things to work better, be it new décor or layouts, an extension, additional dining areas or a whole new dining hall. The dining environment has been shown to have a real impact on pupils’ behaviour and engagement with school meals, so should not be overlooked.

Did You Know? PKL can also help with supplying dining areas as well as kitchens and catering equipment. Get in touch to see how we can help.

I appreciate that preparing for the implementation of free infant school meals may seem like an impossible challenge for some schools, but it needn’t be the nightmare you imagine. At PKL, we have a dedicated team who provide kitchen and catering equipment solutions to the education sector. They can help advise you on the best PKL products to suit your specific school, and offer a wealth of experience and expertise to help you through the procurement process. Take a look at schoolkitchens.com and please do get in touch if you’d like to explore your options further.

Lee has had over 19 years’ experience providing schools across the country with catering infrastructure solutions. He is passionate about school meals and was a driving force behind PKL becoming the founding corporate partner of the Children’s Food Trust. He is also a member of the Small Schools Taskforce, helping to provide solutions and support for small and rural schools in implementing the School Food Plan.
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