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School meals: How to cater for every dietary requirement
As awareness about food intolerances, ethical stances, and health is on the rise, so are different dietary requirements. The days of omnivores, vegetarians, and very occasionally vegans, are long gone. Now, there are numerous dietary preferences, many of which can often intersect.
There are plenty of upsides to this diversification of food and eating. The rise in demand for different options has contributed to vastly improved selections for those who need them. These days, there are often entirely different menus catering specifically for different dietary subsections. No more baked beans on toast for vegetarians!
But on the flip side, caterers now need to meet these new and rising demands. And for schools, that have to prepare food for hundreds of young people at once, this provides an added layer of difficulty to a task that is already fraught with complications.
Especially considering The Early Years Foundation Stage Statutory Framework includes the following requirements relating to special diets:
- Before a child is admitted to the setting the provider must obtain information about any special dietary requirements, preferences, and food allergies that the child has, and any special health requirements; and
- Providers must record and act on information from parents and carers about a child’s dietary needs.
Plus, early years settings (along with other food businesses) are now required by law to provide allergen ingredients information for the food and drink they provide.
So, how can schools update standards for school lunches and bring students with differing dietary requirements back into the fold by making sure they can cater to them? If this seems a tall ask, read on to find out how it can be made possible.
How to identify different dietary needs
Of course, it’s all well and good knowing you need to provide options for varying school meal requirements. But how can you know which diets to prioritise and how much to provide? Well, we’ve put together these handy tips to get you started.
- Conduct a survey
- Learn about different dietary needs
Once you have the results of your survey, it’s time to explore the results by doing research into the range of dietary requirements amongst your students. This research should look into what the diets require and provide your caterers with an easy to access resource on the dos and don’ts of each diet, but also look into different meal options.
- Come up with a variety of options
Ultimately, to encourage as much uptake of school meals as possible, you don’t just need to cater for different requirements but provide interesting and exciting meal options across the board. For instance, if you provide the same gluten free meal option every day, you’re going to find a lot of pupils with Coeliac Disease prefer to bring their own lunch.
The good news is, there is now so much information available online in terms of recipes, meal ideas, and recommendations for different diets, it is perfectly possible to make ideal school meals for all sorts of special requirements.
- Use a meal management system
If you want to make life easier, using a meal management system can enable you to offload the challenge of providing for every type of diet.
With a good meal management system, parents can make fully informed decisions about their child’s meals as they can order school meals online in advance, with access to ingredients and allergen information. Not only this, but the school can remain consistently informed with real-time information on dietary preferences, resulting in much less waste and an appropriate menu for every student.
Different types of dietary requirements
There can be multiple reasons for different dietary requirements. For instance, religion, allergies, health, and ethics. Sometimes these reasons stand alone, and sometimes they overlap. So, someone might need to eat Halal food for religious reasons, but also have certain health requirements.
Of course, there will always be those with more specific and less generalised dietary requirements and they perhaps need to be catered to on a case by case basis. But otherwise, here are the most common dietary requirements found today.
Gluten free and coeliac
In the UK, gluten and lactose (see below) are the most common food intolerances. As a result, there are always likely to be some pupils with these requirements in schools.
Coeliac disease is a severe allergy to gluten, with gluten intolerance sitting as a less severe but still important subsection. Gluten is a combination of proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and their familial grains. As a result, wheat products such as bread, baked goods, crackers, pasta, and cereals contain gluten. However, these days, there are plenty of gluten free alternatives available.
Dairy free and lactose free
While dairy free diets can fall under veganism, some people avoid dairy for health reasons such as a dairy allergy and lactose intolerance. A dairy allergy refers to an autoimmune reaction to one or more of the following proteins: whey, casein, and albumin. Lactose, however, is a sugar present in cow and other animal milks, and is found in dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, and cream.
Vegetarianism is a diet based on the ethical or moral belief that humans shouldn’t consume animal products that cause an animal to suffer. For this reason, vegetarians will consume dairy products and eggs, although often with the caveat that these products have been produced ethically. For instance, free range eggs.
A further subsection of the vegetarian diet is the pescatarian diet, which follows the same guidelines except that pescatarians also eat fish.
Often followed for similar reasons to the vegetarian diet, although sometimes also for health-based reasons, a vegan diet excludes all animal products, including dairy and eggs. As a result, often those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance find it easier to follow a vegan diet.
Often recommended for gastrointestinal issues such as IBS, FODMAP is an acronym for the short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that appear in foods, such as fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and wheat based products. A low FODMAP diet reduces or excludes these foods, although it is not recommended to be used on a long term basis as it is so restrictive.
Tree nut and peanut allergies
Like a dairy or gluten allergy, tree nut and peanut allergies can cause a severe reaction in those afflicted if they consume either tree nuts, which include almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, pecans and more, or peanuts.
Fish and shellfish allergies
One of the most common allergies in adults, which can also affect children, symptoms of fish or shellfish allergies vary and range from mild reactions to a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). Fish and shellfish ingredients may not always be obvious in food so it’s important to list ingredients.
The paleo diet is a dietary preference, not based on ethical beliefs, allergies, or intolerances, and refers to a belief in eating ‘unprocessed’ foods, high in protein and low in carbohydrates.
The ketogenic diet
Originally developed as a treatment for epilepsy, the ketogenic (keto) diet is now most commonly followed for reasons similar to the paleo diet and involves eating foods high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
A school meal app developed by schools, for schools
At Weduc, we have consulted extensively with our customers to develop a flexible, customisable, and easy-to-use school dinner app that makes school meal management easy.
Weduc Meal Manager enables schools to successfully cater to all dietary requirements by making it easy to collate relevant dietary information, prepare meals in advance with pre-booked meals, and seamlessly provide accurate allergen information.
Plus, with Weduc Meal Manager, schools can:
- Create food items & menus, with photos & allergy info.
- Enable parents to book meals in advance.
- Choose when parents pay & prevent debt mounting up.
- Create flexible menus for any date range, including one-off themed days.
- Manage Free School Meals discreetly.
- Create instant data reports available for catering.
A tasty technological solution
Weduc Meal Manager is part of the Weduc communications platform for schools. By choosing to include it in your school’s package, you can make life easier for everyone! Parents only need to log into one system, and staff can keep track of finances in one place – particularly if you use our Weduc payments system too.
Find out more about what Weduc Meal Manager can do for your school here. Or get in touch with us here.