Trends and predictions for the future of school catering services

by | Dec 8, 2023 | Blog

The past few years saw a wider expansion of high-quality contract catering in the educational sector in the UK. It is due to an increasing interest by schools and colleges to provide healthier meals that meet new nutritional standards. These attempts aim at avoiding a slow-moving public health crisis driven by excessive consumption of processed food. Many school meal programmes have evolved from basic to healthy. As nutritional knowledge, climate change, and innovation change how we eat, it is vital that we look at how school catering services in the UK will look to make an impact in future contract catering.

Wellbeing-focussed food

Every year, 600,000 UK children leave school and go out into the world. It is the responsibility of stakeholders of their future, from educators to policy-makers, to ensure they are as happy and healthy as they can be. Their path to becoming productive citizens starts at primary school.

Today, we know that poor diet is a risk factor for life-threatening conditions, including many types of cancer. The current school food standards strive to improve the quality of school meals, from portion sizes to restrictions on salt and sugar. However, these standards will improve and get better with new knowledge and innovation.

As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of healthy eating. Radical yet practical ideas are necessary to change how the food industry operates. Processed and ultra-processed food will no longer have a place in school dining halls. We will say no to unethical food practices and seek better regulations to remove unhealthy ingredients from our food and drink.

Health will matter more than ever as climate change, population explosion, and encroachment into species habitats increase the chances of new pathogens.

Reducing food waste

Sustainability will matter more than ever in future. A fundamental shift in our approach to food and resources driven by a growing population, environmental degradation, and economic strain will become necessary. As a result, minimising food waste needs to be a priority in the catering industry. One of the best methods of reducing food waste is to use imperfect produce.

School catering companies can become advocates to tackle food waste by using imperfect produce, managing portion sizes and better inventory control. They can also educate children on the importance of zero-waste in schools.  Learning about food waste and its consequences will encourage children to finish their meals and promote mindful use of food at home.

Phasing out plastic

Plastic pollution is one of the most pressing environmental challenges facing us today. Plastic waste, particularly single-use items, finds its way into our oceans, rivers, and landfills, causing harm to ecosystems and marine life and even entering the food chain. Microplastic pollution has contaminated the entire planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans.

By phasing out plastic, we can significantly mitigate the detrimental impact on the environment. Single-use plastic items, including cutlery, plates and polystyrene cups, will see a ban in the UK. School caterers will be looking to use bio-degradable packaging and increase their efforts to reduce plastic waste, reuse, and recycle. Contract catering service companies can lead the way in eliminating single-use plastics from schools.

Reducing emissions

One of the most effective approaches to cutting emissions in the catering industry is to reduce food miles – the distance that food travels from its source to the consumer. Sourcing locally ensures food travels a shorter distance from farm to table. Partnering with local farmers, producers, and suppliers to procure ingredients also supports the local economy.

It keeps produce fresh and promotes the local economy. Designing menus around local seasonal produce further lowers environmental impact, reducing the need for storage and transport. Seasonal food tends to grow naturally, requiring less support, in the form of chemicals, to thrive. Harvested at peak freshness and flavour, they also taste much better. Due to their plentiful availability, seasonal produce is cheaper and enhances the affordability of school meals.

Going organic

Organic farming avoids synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). By choosing organic produce, school caterers can make meals healthier. It also reduces the demand for chemicals that can harm soil, water, and non-target species.

Organic farming prioritises practices that nurture soil health, such as crop rotation and composting. Healthy soil retains more water, prevents erosion, and sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere, combating soil degradation and climate change. Conventional agriculture can lead to chemical runoff that contaminates water bodies.

Organic farming practices minimise this risk. Choosing organic produce helps protect water quality and aquatic ecosystems. Organic farms typically have more diverse ecosystems, including native plants and beneficial insects. It supports biodiversity and provides habitats for species, contributing to the conservation of local species.

The future trends and predictions of school catering in the UK will have to adapt to cater to this ever-changing world and nutritional needs. Climate change will be the biggest driver of change in the food industry, with responsible food systems and sustainability measures taking precedence. With sustainability at the core, it is vital to bring innovation and affordability to menus, no matter the size of the school.