Schools that do not currently offer a hot meal service should start to consider how and when they may be able to introduce such a service. Not every school will be able to set up a financially viable service offering a choice of hot meals so a variety of solutions will need to be developed to meet local needs. Below is a list of suggestions for schools to consider but this list is not exhaustive.

Where catering organisations are mentioned, they may not be the sole supplier of these types of services, nor are they recommended by the Local Authority (LA). The LA will support schools in selecting the most appropriate catering organisation to meet the needs of the school.

Schools working together

Schools which have an in-house service with capacity to provide meals for smaller, local schools

Develop capacity of existing kitchens to provide meals to other local schools. The Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are very supportive of encouraging healthy lunches and confirmed that the EHO are keen to work with the LA to improve hot meal provision to pupils. Hot food can be transported via car or wheeled on trolleys to neighbouring schools, provided it is adequately covered in a sealed container such as a hot box or bag, and eaten within two hours of leaving the oven. Temperature probing and Hazard Analysis Critical control Point (HACCP) would be required. If the source kitchen is supplying over 25% of its meal production to other sites then they have to gain approval and a license from EHO. Licensed premises will receive three visits per year from EHO and written systems need to be maintained for each stage of the process at both ends.

Schools receiving food will require:

  • Separate hand washing facilities nearby
  • Serving staff to wear uniforms – white coats and hats
  • Hot plate to keep food hot whilst serving
  • Serving utensils and display bowls/baskets
  • Clearing point with sanitized washing up facilities and bins for waste
  • Crockery, cutlery, trays, water jugs and drinking cups

Other options to consider are using public houses, community hall kitchens, hospitals or military bases.

Collaboration between schools

Schools could consider working together to share services and facilities. A group of schools in Aylesbury are currently working together to refurbish an existing kitchen space with a view to appointing a catering contractor to supply school meals to five schools. The schools will manage the service under a co-operative arrangement that allows them to remain within the umbrella of the Local Authority but ensures that they have an equal share in the risk and benefits of the service.

A group of 21 primary schools in East Kent have joined together and formed a school company to set up and manage a school meal service. Go to: for more information.

Pre-prepared meals, delivered to schools hot

Hot meals can be supplied directly from a catering organisation or the LA could consider building or expanding an existing kitchen to produce hot meals and distribute. Schools would require the same facilities as mentioned above. Consideration should be given to ‘food miles’ bearing in mind that food deteriorates whilst it is kept hot. All hot food must be served within two hours of production but ideally less than one hour to maintain quality.

Pre-prepared microwave steam-heated meals

Scolarest has licensed ‘Esteam’ which claims the following:

  • Provides fresh food every day
  • Retains maximum nutritional goodness
  • Cooked to perfection every time
  • Delivers to government requirements

Trays of food are heated using steam pressure valves, activated by a microwave. Food would be delivered into schools the day before, and schools would then follow strict instructions to heat and serve the food. Each complete meal costs £1.50 (Jan 2007), schools would then need to employ staff to serve the meal and wash up so this cost would be added to the selling price. Schools are required to collect orders and money so additional administration is also involved. Please note that meals are supplied in trays of 6 meals and schools are charged per tray.

Schools would require refrigeration, microwaves (three ovens can provide 80 meals over a lunch period), serving utensils, uniforms and washing up facilities.

Regeneration on site of chilled meals

Cygnet foods have developed a regeneration system in schools that have an available space of 10 x 12 feet. 2 sinks, fridge, V-Gen oven, microwave, storage, dishwasher, work surface and utensils are required but extraction is not necessary.

Chilled main meals and desserts are delivered from their central production kitchen. Salads, fruit and jacket potatoes are prepared on site. The V-Gen oven cooks the meals but also turns into a mobile hot plate so it can be wheeled in to the school hall for service. Cygnet provides site staff to cook and serve the food but limited skills are required as there are no real cooking skills involved.

The average price of a meal when 60 meals are ordered is £2.32 for Cygnet to provide the staff and £1.45 if the school provides the staff.

Please click on the following link to find out more:

Cygnet Catering

In house service with external management support

Supply Direct offer a service that supports schools in offering an in-house service. The school agrees recipes and a cost per meal, and then orders the required number of meals each week. The ingredients required to cook each dish are delivered to school and the school receives one invoice per week showing how many meals have been purchased. Supply Direct offer full support in legal matters such as health and safety and staff training. They use local suppliers (within 30 miles) for perishable goods and they own the stock which saves the school tying up income in stock that is sitting on the shelf. Every fortnight the school is visited for stock taking and to provide any necessary support.

Supply Direct make their income through purchase discounts.

Schools are guaranteed a cost for each dish but retain control and responsibility for menus, food standards and staffing. This has the benefit of strictly controlling food costs and provides expert catering support to schools.

Cooks the Bakery

This service is aimed at secondary schools. It provides a modern café style dining area and works closely with the school and students.

Other options that provide a stepping stone to a more permanent solution:

Cold service

Whilst this is not a preferred solution it supports schools in taking either small first steps or, for schools that are unable to find a financially viable hot solution, an alternative to packed lunches. Schools may consider developing a sandwich and snack service that could include a salad and fresh fruit bar. A separate preparation area is required and staff will need to have basic food hygiene training and complete HACCP risk assessment paperwork.

Schools could consider buying in ready made sandwiches and snacks. A small preparation area will be needed and must include hand and food prep sinks, a fridge, storage, benches and washing up facilities.

A small oven would allow schools to cook baguettes, jacket potatoes, boil eggs and make pasta dishes.

Develop a whole School Food Policy

All schools should develop a Whole School Food policy. 

A Whole School Food policy should set out guidance for what food can be brought into schools, including packed lunches. has provided some helpful guidance on this topic regarding food standards in schools.

Limited Meal Service

Several schools in Buckinghamshire offer a jacket potato/pasta meal once per week. The meal is organised through the PTA, replacing the popular but unhealthy hotdog meal. Volunteer staff are used, having been trained in basic food hygiene using the school meal transition grant. Take up in some schools is over 80%. The Potato Council has developed a resource that provides guidance to organisations wishing to develop a jacket potato service.

For many schools a hot meal every day is not feasible at this moment but to offer an occasional meal service or a daily limited choice may be a positive first step and a means for schools to develop a trial service. Other alternatives could include soup meals or pasta bars.

 Local Authority to bid for funding for new kitchens

From 2008 Local Authorities without kitchens will be able to submit a bid for capital funding to build new kitchens. LA’s should also prioritise refurbishing or building kitchens in all capital projects. Buckinghamshire should map out existing kitchens and identify the most beneficial locations for capital builds based on the assumption that the funding will not provide for a new kitchen in every school. Decisions should be based on geographical location in relation to neighbouring schools and potential capacity, access for transport, capital cost and potential savings that could occur due to existing layout of school and available space to build.

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