School food trends

Ollie Brand, CEO at Zupa eProcurement platform, discusses the rising demand for sustainable eating within schools

Setting ambitious goals on becoming more sustainable has been a big focus for schools over recent years. Environmental education in school has moved way beyond planting trees, recycling initiatives and energy-saving campaigns. When it comes to building a healthier and safer planet for the future, many schools are also looking to their catering provision and food consumption to create positive change for the future.

There is a growing demand within school communities for healthier, more sustainable food not just in line with protecting the planet but also in taking responsibility at a more hyper-local level. Students themselves are very much driving the demand for innovation and, in many cases, taking personal ownership in the quest for a greener, more circular food system. From the cultivation of onsite allotments to specialist gardening clubs and student eco committees, young people want their school meals to prioritise regenerative production, to favour recycling, reduce pollution and the impact on the planet.

Tangible results

Children want to change the future for the better and part of that means thinking about the food we eat from a farm-to-fork perspective – and how we can make that journey more sustainable, in a tangible way with obvious results. Students are flying the green flag for their schools today and are willing to get involved and make change happen. As such, more and more school catering teams are making use of advances in technology to help them adapt and deliver a more sustainable catering provision within their school.

Food consumption and the impact of it is something that schools are taking very seriously. Veganism, in particular, is one movement that is continuing to have a huge influence on our younger generations.

A survey by the BBC in 2021 found that more than 20% of children in the UK are already vegan, or would like to be. But moving to a plant-based diet is no longer simply about animal welfare or merely another trendy diet fad; it is a big factor in the survival of the planet and something that school catering teams are becoming increasingly aware of.

Schools now have to justify the choice of food they serve to their students and staff, but it is not just about feeding them nutritious and healthy meals. Catering teams need to show a genuine interest in the school and its ethos around sustainability – they need to reduce wastage, justify the packaging they use, the suppliers they order from, and where products originate from/how they were sourced. They also need variation within their menus to meet allergen requirements, to tackle food innovation and to keep the dining hall operating smoothly, efficiently and within budget.

School catering teams are making use of advances in technology to help them adapt and deliver a more sustainable catering provision within their school

Technology is evolving

Catering provision in independent schools is a fixed cost. Bursars need visibility of any unforeseen problems or cost issues – that means having complete insight of spending data. Communication and price comparison are, of course, key to avoiding overspend, but supply chain fragility along with rising costs is proving to be a risk for schools exceeding budgets. This can mean they are often paying over and above for food items, which compounds the issue.

Thankfully, procurement technology is evolving today to support schools with their budgeting as well as their recipe and menu innovation, to ensure they have wider access to the best prices and quality of goods and access to the right data to make better decisions.

Food shortages, driven by consumer shopping trends, can also have a knock-on effect on school catering services. This is an area where fit-for-purpose technology can help in expanding the supplier network and the opportunity to negotiate with local suppliers on costs, adapting menus and recipes in line with current supply chain restrictions and food shortages, all of which can be hugely helpful for schools wanting to provide a range of healthy, sustainable menu options, while navigating any changes quickly.

Nutrition and allergy tracking is another area where schools are using technology to adapt to student requirements and lifestyle choices. From nut and dairy allergies to veganism and vegetarianism, dietary requirements and other intolerances, schools have to be a step ahead of the game when managing what students are eating. Menu software can be very helpful in omitting specific or all allergens in recipes and this kind of technology will be key for the future in adapting menu planning.

Greater transparency

Despite the challenges schools face around delivering a more sustainable catering service, the good news is we are at a stage where technology can be transformative. Whether that is around supply chain communications, product traceability, price comparison, internal team comms, recipe and menu planning, allergens management or staying on top of spending, delivering greater transparency across the catering department ensures that budget holders are more mindful of spend. It also means that schools can continue to deliver on their promise to think greener and more sustainably when it comes to the delivery of school catering.

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