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What to consider when choosing a school food provider

Many schools offer healthy school lunches and snacks for their students and using third-party food providers and caterers who deliver daily is becoming a popular choice for schools. Choosing which school food provider will suit your school and students will involve researching and understanding your school's particular requirements, but also educating yourself on menus, nutrition, costs and standards on food quality and delivery.

Here at we have provided some of the questions and valuable points to consider before you choose a food provider for your school.

What kind of menus are available

Third-party food providers generally come with pre-planned menus where students and parents are given a choice of what lunches and snacks they can enjoy week by week. Menus will change but generally the staples, such as fruit, sandwiches, yogurts etc remain each week. Multi choice menus are provided weekly and at the beginning of the week, students can tick off items they would like to eat. Menus are often simple with sandwiches, wraps, dried-fruit, yogurts, different fruits, pasta, water and juices being most likely to appear.

It is important in knowing how much attention will go into kid’s lunches so it is worth asking how often menus will change, and who decides these changes. If you are unsure of how to choose your menu, ask your provider for sample lunches and snacks menu for a month and see if these suit your student’s requirements.

Will your food provider guarantee allergy free options

Nut and other food allergy reactions can range from mild to extreme. Your food provider must be able to provide food that is allergy free and ensure that food supplied is not cross contaminated. Also, make sure your provider has multiple alternatives to cheese, wheat-free for intolerances and come with vegetarian, vegan and halal options.

How is it made and where it's from

Food providers will often have a dedicated factory for food preparation. Ask your food provider about how your food orders are made, packed and delivered to your schools, and make this information available for all parents, including those with children with allergies. Food providers may also ensure their meals are locally produced and Irish owned food products. They will often provide information on their suppliers and stock so check with your provider on how your food is sourced, if this is a concern for you and your school.

Is your food provider insured and do they have the necessary health and safety certificates

This may seem like a no-brainer but standards in food production are high, therefore only highest quality-assured caterers should be considered.

What are the costs

Schools who provide lunches, snacks and dinners to students may rely on different methods of funding. Some may rely on departmental or local grants while others may rely on fundraising, parent organisations or voluntary subscriptions. Food providers may give you information how each of these costs are broken down per meal per child. If you are looking for a breakdown to factor into your budget ask your food provider to give you a price on all food items.

Some schools are entitled to a food grant from the Department of Social Welfare’s School Meals Program. See more on food grants and costs, click here.

Consider visiting potential suppliers premises

If you can, take the opportunity to visit the providers premises so you can see the standard of facilities and hygiene. Ask about how they make food appealing for kids and whether they can provide information for parents and kids about healthy eating.

Looking for a school lunch provider?
Check out some providers here