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Too Cool for School… Dinners

It may be the summer holidays now, but before you know it the school bell will be ringing again.

And while the pupils’ only worry is what homework is due in that week, for those schools with in-house catering,
chefs are worrying about what to feed them for a whole year.

From September, all pupils aged between four and seven (reception, year 1 and 2) will be entitled to a free, hot and nutritious school lunch. The plan, announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, aims to improve academic attainment and save families money.

Government regulation states that two portions of fruit and vegetables must be served per meal and fried food cut to two portions per week. The constant battle for chefs is keeping school dinners healthy, varied and profitable.

school dinners

Tom Shurman, chef at Wensleydale Secondary School, serves a two-course lunch for 82p per pupil. In one year he has
increased school dinner uptake by over 68% and made a gross profit of 46%. Thanks to the profit Tom has made, the school has additional funds to help pay for new things such as catering equipment or books. Most importantly the mood of the school has been greatly enhanced. Says Tom, “The atmosphere is fantastic. Pupils are spending more money at the school, eating better and spending much more time in the dining room together.” It’s a
win-win situation and as a result numerous primary and nursery schools have now approached Tom to transform their catering.

Take Stock finds out how he cooks up the perfect school dinner.

school dinners

Buy well

Tom, who previously worked in a Michelin star kitchen, has taken the commercial chef approach, which includes buying well. “I use the same suppliers I did when I worked in the restaurant trade, so that keeps prices down and
I’m assured of quality produce,” he explains. He also uses produce from the school’s farm. Once run purely as an educational facility, the farm now rears livestock and grows vegetables for the school’s menu.

Make a break

Selling snacks such as pizza and chicken wings at break time is a great profit tool. Tom has also set up a bistro that sells hot paninis and stops sixth formers venturing into town.

Restaurant it up

Tom serves restaurant style food. His best selling dish is Thai noodle stir-fry made with a homemade Thai paste. Chicken curry, lasagne and risotto are popular too. The self-serve salad bar is big hit, especially as Tom mixes it
up with pasta and potato, hummus and sweet chilli peppers.

Listen to the pupils

His dessert menus are dominated by old fashioned favourites that the students like. Top sellers are sponges, treacle tart, crumbles and scones. “Proper fruit salad goes down a storm,” said Tom. “I sell between 80-100 a day. I can make it for 40p a portion and I sell it at 80p making it a dish that generates fantastic profit.”

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