Q1: Why should caterers look to put more plant-based options on their menus?
Jayne: There are so many reasons why caterers across Scotland are introducing more plant based options onto menus: for some, it’s a direct response to buying trends, as our customers are telling us that’s what they want. There are also concerns relating to health and to the environment that are also reasons for increasing the availability of plant based meals, not to mention that many plant based dishes are just delicious!
Q2: How have you tackled this challenge?
Jayne: In schools across Scotland there has been an increase in demand for vegetarian, vegan and plant based meals for some time, so this isn’t so much a challenge as a natural progression based on consumer choice. But for schools across Scotland the change is also now statutory. We have just implemented a wide range of food and drinks standards changes, and one of those sets a maximum limit for the amount of red and red processed meat that can be provided to pupils in any one week. The main driver for this statutory change is health, and aligning school meals more closely with the Scottish Dietary Goals.
Q3: Can savings be made by introducing such changes?
Jayne: Cost is not a driver for change in Scotland, and probably doesn’t even feature in our top five reasons for increasing the range of plant based choices available to pupils. In addition to the reduction in red and red processed meat in our schools, we have also increased the amount of fruit and vegetables available to pupils every day, meaning that across the school day most pupils should be able to access at least five portions of fruit and vegetables. That is an increase in availability and in cost – so it’s about spending more on better quality food where we can. The same ca be said for the red meat we do use – buying less but better quality is the main focus for us.
Q4: How have you promoted new dishes and menus?
Jayne: Catering teams across Scotland have been working hard to promote their new menus and the changes to school food – some of this work has been done nationally, using partners’ websites like Parent Club Scotland and our own ASSIST FM social media streams like @scotmeals on Twitter and @scottishschoolmeals on Instagram. Local Authorities and individual school meals have been sharing updated menus with parents and with pupils, and are trying to engage them in trying new dishes by offering activities such as tasting sessions. Restrictions that are in place as a result of the pandemic have created a bit of a barrier to engaging directly with pupils and parents at times, but with those restrictions easing I hope we can get back to some more direct engagement with our children and young people.
Q5: What has been the feedback from customers?
Jayne: Across the board, the overall feedback has been positive, and people understand the reasons why changes are being made all across Scotland, However there will always be some resistance and challenge: change is difficult to adapt to, and it will take time to change tastes and choices away from previous favourite dishes. People do seem supportive of the overall approach, and are pleased to see school meals continuing to evolve.
Q6: What’s next?
Jayne: We never stand still in Scottish school meals, and our focus is always on providing good quality, hot, sustainable and nutritious meals to as many children and young people as possible. We’ll be continuing to engage with our pupils and getting their feedback on the changes and on the new menus and dishes, and making further changes based on their feedback.
We also have the implementation of free school meals for all pupils in our Primary schools across Scotland starting from August, so that too is a huge opportunity to ensure that our children and young people access a healthy, nutritious school meal every day, giving them the fuel they need to learn.
For more information on Plant-Based Week, click here