The role of school catering companies in promoting sustainability in school food systems

by | Feb 12, 2024 | Blog

School food systems can impact sustainability while shaping children’s attitudes towards food and nutrition. Climate change-induced environmental changes, a burgeoning population, and rising cost of living negatively impact our ability to produce high-quality food, putting food security and nutrition at risk. School catering companies now have an ethical responsibility to promote sustainability in the school food system. So, how do we universally achieve this?

Before we take a closer look at sustainable school catering, let’s understand why it matters on a rapidly warming planet with an unequal distribution of wealth and resources.

The importance of sustainability in the catering industry

The sustainability of a food system impacts three key elements.

Environment – a sustainable food system prevents the exploitation of natural resources and reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs). For example, locally sourced produce reduces food miles, cutting down GHGEs, and eating seasonal, responsibly caught fish can discourage overfishing. Did you know that a third of all food is wasted along the value chain, accounting for 8%-10% of GHG emissions through its production?

Economy – buying local produce benefits local producers and the local economy. When local businesses thrive, they create more jobs locally. Returns on assets and profits for entrepreneurs mean better wages for workers and more tax revenue for local councils. Businesses also reinvest in the local economy to increase innovation and R&D, thus improving the quality of products. Increased worker income increases expenditure, putting money back into the economy.

Society – a food system built on sustainability, delivers high-quality food to the community. It prevents agricultural pollution, food waste, landfills and the depletion of natural resources in a locality. Such a food system safeguards local culture and traditions related to food and farming. It also promotes food security through the affordability of local produce.

Rise in sustainable food practices in schools

The calls and efforts to make school meals healthy have given rise to the importance of a sustainable food system. Only a sustainable food system can bring about the changes necessary to make food affordable and healthy. School catering companies have been working to create models to improve the nutritional quality of food to reduce health inequalities and food insecurity among children.

Schools are also looking for food system transformation by partnering with sustainable school meal providers. Additionally, many schools are introducing food growing and cookery into the curriculum. Caterers are also working with schools to start gardening clubs, cookery clubs, and competitions to increase awareness of healthy eating and sustainability.

The government has revised nutritional standards for school meals to ensure the food provided to pupils is higher in quality and nutritional value. As part of its public procurement policy, the government has outlined mandatory and best practice standards for sustainable procurement for food and catering services. These include traceability, authenticity and animal welfare.

The role of school catering companies in promoting sustainability

Policies adopted by school catering companies have far-reaching effects. The quality of food offered in schools influences children’s dietary preferences and eating habits. Increasing plant-based protein, fruit and vegetables in meals not only tackles nutrition inequalities but also pressing environmental concerns.

Healthier meals reduce the burden of public health crises stemming from diet-related diseases. Sustainable school catering is a key investment for governments. It yields substantial returns by producing healthier, educated, and empowered individuals who contribute positively to society.

Fresh and seasonal produce makes food taste better, which encourages pupils to eat healthy, sustainable food. Children are more likely to try plant-based food when it is commonplace in schools. Sustainability can cut costs for caterers, allowing them to provide more affordable, nutrient-rich meals. It reduces food waste and the environmental impact of waste.

Benefits of promoting sustainability in school food systems

Local business participation – when school catering companies source produce and ingredients locally, it supports local businesses. These partnerships enable catering companies to trace allergens and provide bespoke menus and items for individual schools. It also allows businesses to engage in corporate social responsibility by donating surpluses.

Improved nutritional quality – the shorter the supply chain, the fresher the food. Fresher food retains a high degree of nutritional value. Food is less processed and more wholesome. When sourcing locally, meal providers can also monitor the origin, production standards, quality, animal welfare, and authenticity of organic and free-range products.

Positive environmental impacts – sustainable school meals cut down on GHGEs, packaging, transportation and waste. They encourage sustainable farming, fishing, animal welfare and plant-based food production.

Community engagement – a shift towards sustainability promotes community engagement. School management, teachers, parents, local businesses, and policymakers come together to facilitate change and deliver initiatives. Active participation in school gardens and field trips can create a collective consciousness about sustainable food practices. It can also lead to other climate change initiatives.

Awareness and education – the food we eat impacts our understanding of the world around us. Children learn about seasonal ingredients, plant-based nutrition and the difference in freshness and natural flavours. It helps them learn about where food comes from, how it gets produced, and why it all matters in a rapidly changing world. A sustainable approach to school food helps children become environmentally conscious about food choices.

Sustainability-driven school meals designed by Alliance in Partnership

Food choices are the most fundamental but significant approach to fighting climate change. Sustainable school food systems deliver affordable, well-balanced meals without waste. Both the school and caterer can operate with a low carbon footprint. This approach helps the wider community and local economy by empowering local producers and businesses. It also encourages more plant-based food consumption among children with up to a third of the menus planted.

Alliance in Partnership provides healthy, bespoke, and cost-effective solutions to schools of all types. Our meals are freshly cooked in our own kitchens every day with locally sourced, seasonal, sustainable, and of the highest nutritional standards. We have a team of professional nutritionists on board to ensure menus devised for special dietary requirements are allergen and intolerance-safe as much as possible. We create a fun, vibrant, healthy, and educational food environment.

These activities will support our journey to Net Zero by 2040, not only at Sodexo but in partnership with our clients and supply chain. We’re also increasing the take up of sustainable diet options and removing unrecylable plastics.

Are your school meals sustainable?