Drama-free dinner times
Breakfast is still widely considered to be the most important meal of the day, setting children up for a day of learning and fun. Today, a rising number of health-conscious schools and parents are keen to ensure children receive a healthy meal at lunchtime, too, with fresh choices available to all students.
Often, when the bell rings for lunchtime, hungry students are eager to eat quickly before heading outside for some much-needed playtime. The choice of what they eat is often in the hands of mums and dads. Whether it’s a packed lunch or hot meal from the school canteen, parents want to stay on top of their child’s diet.
School food matters
Only 8% of secondary school-aged children in the UK are getting their five-a-day. Almost one in five children are overweight or obese when they start primary school, with the number rising to one in three when they start secondary school. In fact, by 2020, it’s estimated that half of all children in the UK will be overweight or obese. The health risks relating to obesity are well known, resulting in not only significant physical health risks but mental health issues, too.
The Department for Education’s School Food Plan lays out guidance for providing nutritious meals and options throughout the school day. There’s an increasing emphasis on creating a positive environment in which children can eat and relax with friends, enjoy appetising meals and learn about cooking nutritious food. We’re seeing a cultural change taking place at lunchtime, both in and outside of the kitchen.
Stronger together - schools and parents
While healthy options are a huge step in the right direction, the importance of parental engagement when it comes to children’s diet also can’t be underestimated. In years past, parents were often unaware of what children were eating at dinner time; today, more schools than ever are offering parents an insight into their child’s meals.
When it comes to healthy eating, parents are a child’s main role-model. Parents have a large influence over what children eat at home, and the environment in which meals are prepared and eaten. While they may not prepare their child’s lunch boxes every day, it is still very important that they know what their child is eating in the school canteen.
Placing the responsibility of dinner selections into parents’ hands is a great way of assuring them that their child has eaten a healthy lunch. Parents are able to plan meals to complement school dinners and make selections according to dietary requirements. When schools and parents work together, it’s easier to develop a culture and ethos around nutritious choices in which children benefit both mentally and physically.
Good habits start in the (school) kitchen
Instilling the importance of making good food choices from a young age is a sure-fire way of starting children off on a road to good health. A nutritious, balanced diet also means children are more likely to feel energised and motivated to learn. In the classroom, a room of well-fed attentive children provides a much happier, serene learning environment in which all students can thrive.
Engaging with parents regularly and emphasising the importance of selecting their children’s dinner choices encourages good habits at home, too. For some households, access to a wide range of fresh and healthy food isn’t always available. Unfortunately, for some children, a nutritious school lunch may be the only proper meal they receive each day.
The stigma around free school meals (FSM) can make lunchtime an anxious experience for students. Some parents claiming FSM for their children may also feel uncomfortable when dealing with their school, building barriers rather than bridges around an important period of a student’s school day. Creating a supportive, discreet environment in which students claiming FSM can collect their dinner and eat happily is very important; maintaining positive and regular communications with hard-to-reach parents is equally as important. When parents feel supported by schools, students feel the benefits of strong home/school partnerships.
Practical steps to dinner time
Collecting dinner choices and managing parent payments is an unavoidable and time-consuming task. Fighting spiralling dinner money debt is an ongoing battle for schools across the UK. Add missing menu choices and managing suppliers into the mix, and schools are often left with unnecessary waste in the kitchen.
It’s clear that schools need a reliable, cost-efficient system which simplifies lunchtimes in the kitchen while supporting busy parents at home. Our new advance bookings functionality does just that.
Advance bookings from +Pay enable parents to make selections and pay for dinner items immediately or in advance, via a balance. Schools can set payment deadlines and request bookings and payments early, enabling kitchen staff to manage suppliers and reduce waste.
Our new functionality relieves stress in the office by streamlining what was once an on-going tricky task. With simple online bookings and payments, staff are no longer left chasing money and dinner choices from parents; instead, they simply set up menu items (or use saved menus for recurring options), send out to parents and collect online responses, quickly and easily. Automated reminders notify parents who are yet to make their selections, without the need for staff to manually contact parents. For parents not online, manual payments can be added to the system, ensuring all parents and students benefit from organised payments and meal choices.
For parents, selecting menu options and topping up balances is quick and easy. With our free mobile app, parents can manage school communications on-the-go with just a few clicks. Our online payments system offers a range of payment methods to suit everyone, including PayPal, debit and credit card and PayPoint. Parents can see an overview of how much they have paid, for which items and over what time period. They can also view how much is owed and where money has been spent, providing a transparent view of their child’s dinner choices.