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MD of Evolve 4 discusses how to cut mealtime costs

25th Nov 2022 - 04:00
Amid one of the most economically challenging academic years, food industry expert and managing director of Evolve 4, Ernie Dewhirst, says ‘modernising solutions’ can ease school catering headaches.

Sadly, there are numerous challenges facing the school kitchen this year with caterers having to contend with a shortage of staff and high vacancy rates, as well as a lack of drivers.

Meanwhile, school meal providers have been left worried they’ll simply be unable to meet the basic, legally-mandated food requirements due to the rate of food inflation, with many compromising on the quantity and quality of the meals they serve.

This is a huge concern given how crucial it is for students to receive a healthy lunch that’s well-portioned. To reduce the risk of having to make such compromises, caterers may be left with no choice but to raise the price of school meals in order to absorb the rising costs, which could mean parents face the prospect of being priced out.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of students having access to a healthy and nutritious school meal due to the educational benefits it can bring.

Researchers have found that a hot meal at lunchtime can help children to concentrate in the afternoon thanks to the energy boost it provides, so that they can take in vital learnings and prevent rumbling stomachs from becoming a distraction.

Looking long-term, by providing high quality school meals it’s possible that we’ll see a significant improvement in academic performance.

Reducing the quality and quantity of school meals will not only affect performance in the classroom but it’s important to remember that it will affect pupils’ daily diets.

Sadly, for many children, it could be the only hot meal they eat all day so it’s therefore alarming to consider the potential health consequences that a compromise on meals will have on large numbers of children across the country.

One way to try to minimise school meal provision costs is through what I call ‘modernisation’, one example of which is the ability to offer pre-selection of meals, which reduces both waste and costs.

Given the challenges faced by caterers, it’s important that an increase in meal uptake is achieved to claw back losses made. Yet, with the increasing cost-of-living crisis, it’s unfair to outprice parents on school meals.

A pre-selection system like ours at Evolve 4 is that it takes into account special diets and allergen requirement, which provides transparency for parents and more choice for children when they pre-select their meals. This should increase uptake. Pre-ordering also means caterers know the right amount of ingredients to order, and this should reduce waste and help the school kitchen to operate in a more cost-effective way.

With higher uptake, caterers can reduce the service cost per meal and this can help bring about greater efficiency that can allow schools and councils to significantly reduce their losses and operate in a much more financially sustainable way.

This prevents the need to raise prices, meaning parents won’t be unable to afford school meals and more children will be fed.

Written by
Edward Waddell