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classroom social distancing

The new look to school meals

School catering under social distancing measures…

With the recent government announcement on the possible reopening of schools from 1st June, we now know that school meals will be back on the menu soon. Schools have been asked to start planning for a phased opening if the government’s 5 key tests are met. Whilst initially only children in specific year groups will return, the expectation is that all primary children will go back before summer.

At CMC, as catering consultants supporting and advising schools throughout the Coronavirus Pandemic, we have already been considering how schools might best manage their catering and service delivery areas to comply with social distancing measures.

Government expectations…

According to the government’s current directives, a school meal or school food provision is seen as the best option for feeding children on return. Schools are being asked to provide meals for all children in school and are therefore expected to reopen their kitchens, whilst ensuring that meals are able to be prepared and served safely. The government would also prefer food parcels to be given to those children who receive free school meals if they are not in school, with vouchers seen as a last resort and only where needed.

Key issues…

At CMC we recognise that no two schools are the same. All schools will have a variety of different issues to consider depending on school roll numbers, size of kitchen and dining facilities, and the staff available to prepare and serve the food. Paramount in any decision making will inevitably be the safety of pupils and staff and the ability to ensure social distancing during a period of the school day which is usually seen as a time for social interaction.

We recognise that the traditional lunch period is a potential high risk time and pupils may at first be restricted to staying within their designated ‘class bubble’ area. Dining areas may initially be no-go areas only used again when the reintegration of pupils into school progresses and some lunch time normality might be possible.

All these issues will need to be considered before a school can decide how and what they can offer for lunch.

Assessing the risks…

At CMC we always recommend that the first step in any new catering practice is to assess the risks. Your school will need to consult with your Catering Manager or external catering provider and carry out a workplace assessment in order to determine the possible risks.

We advise that a risk assessment on the potential spread of COVID-19 in both the kitchen and the dining room should be completed initially. This would then form the basis of the decision making process for what style of lunch service could safely be provided for both pupils and catering staff. Catering teams need to be involved and training needs identified and actioned before production resumes.

Menu considerations…

With space at a premium in many schools, the ability to ensure social distancing in the dining area could mean that lunch has to be delivered over a longer period of time to allow for individual year groups to eat separately. Inevitably this will have an impact on the kitchen staff to produce food that can be safely held at the correct temperature over longer service periods. Cooking food in batches for staggered lunches may also impact on production time.

We also need to consider what food can be prepared safely, as kitchen staff will also have to comply with the 2 metre social distancing in the kitchen, so compromising workspace available for food preparation. In order to adhere to the 2 metre ruling, kitchens may have to operate with a smaller number of staff at any one time. Therefore, a simple menu which allows safety and ease of preparation, together with minimal contact delivery between catering staff and pupils, and restricted surface contact from pupils would have to be the preferred option.

Some schools may opt for a ‘sandwich only’ option in the first instance. This would enable class groups to remain within their classrooms if necessary and also minimise possible spread through handling, as packaging can be immediately disposed of after use and there would be no need for crockery and cutlery to be rehandled by staff for washing.

Starting with this very simple option could help to lay the foundations for safely developing the service once pupils and staff have become familiar with operating with social distancing measures in place.

Whatever menu your school decides to implement they should aim to follow the advice of the School Food Standards Guidance on both nutrition and preparation.

service delivery

Service delivery…

If schools decide that they can safely operate their lunch service within the main dining hall then a family-style service could be an option for the delivery of meals. This is a style of food service where pupils are sat at tables and the food is brought to them by a member of the catering team or a school member of staff collects from the servery. Tables can be laid with individual settings of cutlery and drinks prior to pupils arriving in the dining room and pupils asked to leave their used plates and cutlery on the table when they leave.

By employing this style of service, there is not only a reduction in pupils movement around the dining hall and possible pupil to pupil contact but also less possible contact between the pupils and the catering team and contact surfaces such as servery counters.


Whatever lunch menu your school decides to offer and however you choose to deliver it, Food Safety Regulations will need to be followed. In April the World Health Organisation (WHO) published COVID-19 and food safety: guidance for business outlining their interim additional measures for ensuring that the ‘integrity of the food chain is maintained’. They strongly advised that food businesses must have robust Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) in place to manage risks and prevent food contamination.

Your catering staff will need to be need even more vigilant with personal hygiene and cleaning measures. We would recommend that staff should increase the frequency of cleaning procedures, pausing production throughout the day, in order to wipe down workstations with disinfectant or sanitiser. Adhering to their Food Safety training will be vital over the coming months to ensure a safe dining experience for everyone in your school.

If you would like further advice on how to manage your service operation during social distancing or food safety management then contact us on