Phasing out plastic trays and bringing in china plates

Resource: Case study
Phasing out plastic trays and bringing in china plates

Three years ago only 20 of Chilton Primary School’s 200 pupils ate school meals, but today this figure is up to an impressive 150. Headteacher Christine Dunsdon tells us how the school dealt with one major part of improving the school’s dining environment: phasing out flight trays.

Did you initially have concerns with the Food for Life Partnership’s criteria on flight trays?

Yes we did - our main concerns with using china plates was that it would take longer to serve (as the children would have to queue twice to get lunch and then dessert) and that we would have an unacceptable number of breakages. I also expected some resistance from the catering team as china plates would be heavier. We therefore spent a lot of money buying red plastic beakers and red plastic flight trays for our pupils, believing this to be the best way to ensure a safe and efficient food service.

Why did you decide to switch to china plates?

The Food for Life Partnership’s framework allowed us to evaluate the whole school approach to food - cooking, growing and eating, and it was with this in mind that we asked the school council to survey our children to find out what they thought about school meals. The children were asked about flight trays specifically and we discovered that they did not like them: the trays were too big for the tables and for little people to carry, the food did not look appealing with main course and dessert lumped together, and often the water beaker would spill into the food. It was because of this that we decided to make the switch.

What have been the time / financial costs involved with switching to china plates?

It cost us around £400 to replace the flight trays with plates. The flight trays cost £1.95 each whereas plates and puddng bowls cost £1.00 and £1.50 respectively. Dishwashing costs/times have remained the same as the space taken by 16 flight trays takes around 32 plates.

Have you made any changes to your dining room system since switching to china plates?

We now have a staggered system of FS, KS1 and KS2 coming in to lunch. All sandwiches and dinner children eat together- so they can sit with friends regardless of choice of dinner. As a result some packed lunch children have changed to dinners for some days. All children go to the hatch, a table at a time. Packed lunch children pick up a plate and everyone goes back to the table to eat together. All packed lunches have to be put on the plate and boxes go under the chair. This makes it much easier to monitor what each child is eating. When children have finished their first course, they ask for permission to clear and collect their puddings. This gives control over finishing the first course before starting on the pudding. Children then collect their pudding from a pudding station and take it back to their table. They then ask permission to leave when they have finished.

What has been the impact of changing your dining environment?

The children love the new plates, they value their eating environment and the atmosphere is far more civilised. Tables now have table clothes and a pot of flowers on them and the children will report if their table has not got its flower in place for example. We also painted a mural around the hatch - the children appreciate this too. School meal uptake is now up to 150!

What advice would you give to other schools thinking of changing their dining environments and phasing out flight trays?

Do it! It makes a tremendous difference. Plan the eating arrangements carefully- flow of traffic needs to be planned carefully- there is more movement. Breakages are not the issue I had thought. It is very unusual for a breakage to happen. When it does, it is often one of the younger children who has struggled with negotiating the clearing station. Teaching table set up is much easier- the children can lay the table properly before collecting the plate, whereas before it was not worth it because the tray did not fit.

The Food for Life Partnership is a network of schools and communities across England committed to transforming food culture. Together we are revolutionising school meals, reconnecting children and young people with where their food comes from, and inspiring families to grow and cook food.

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