With the summer drawing to a close and the new academic year just starting, it’s not just pupils, parents and teachers who are getting ready for the term ahead.
For chefs working in the education sector, September provides a chance test the waters with new recipes, try out different ingredients, and introduce new dishes to the lunch menu. As our trip to the LACA Main Event earlier this year showed, there’s no reason why the school canteen can’t be the home of cooking that’s as exciting and adventurous as it is nourishing.
So, if you’re looking to go beyond the tried and tested classics, why not get inspired with our recipes and menu ideas to try out this term. After all, something that starts as a new menu addition in September could become a familiar favourite by the end of the year.
Head to the High Street
A recent survey has suggested that when it comes to food, younger generations are now more adventurous, with children being 41% more likely to try new foods than their parents. Far from being fussy, kids today are willingly eating stronger flavours at a younger age, with many having tried traditionally polarising foods like olives, chilli and sushi by the age of 7. Although this might seem unusual, with a wider choice of cuisines than ever available on the UK’s high streets, it’s perhaps no great surprise that today’s students are developing eclectic tastes at an earlier age than their parents.
This means is that if you’re really looking to increase uptake this year, and get pupils engaged with the food you’re cooking, it’s a good idea to look to the trends now firmly embedded on the high street. This doesn’t need to mean going too exotic or unusual, and it’s best to stick to options that most students will likely have tried before; think piri piri chicken or paella, rather than ceviche or kimchi.
Instead, take well known casual dining flavours and deliver them in an accessible, nutritious way, like our Piri Piri Pork and Potatoes. A quick to prep casual inspired one pot meal that can be served alongside salad or vegetables, or plated up as a quick to eat grab and go option, dishes like our piri piri pork can provide a new yet familiar addition to your lunch menu, working for busy pupils and cooks alike.
Grab & Go Meets Street Food
Meals that can be quickly picked up and eaten on the go continue to be popular in schools, with pupils finding that “grab and go” options fit in well with the demands of a busy day.
The On the Go menu offered by most schools is likely made up of a few regular fixtures, with pasta pots, soup, jacket potatoes and pizza often the most popular items served up. However, there’s no reason why takeaway lunch options need keep to the same format week in week out. In fact, giving a new spin to grab and go doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming, and adding new options could even help to create intrigue and increase uptake.
When we teamed up with Jon Knight of street food traders Original Fry Up Material ahead of this year’s LACA event, we decided to give a street food flavour to grab and go, presenting three on trend alternatives to more the traditional options. For inspiration, take a look at the Aloo Kofte “Bhangra Balls” we served up on the day. Although they may look exotic, Jon’s Bhangra Balls are made with McCain Simply Mash, cheese, store cupboard spices and yoghurt; ingredients that most kitchens should easily have to hand.
Served on their own or on top of a green salad, street food inspired options like Jon’s Aloo Kofte are great for adding a little variety to grab and go, and can easily be adapted depending on what you have available; try using different spice combinations in the potato mix, or serving with new salads or dipping sauces.
Give Old Favourites a Twist
Whilst it might be tempting to create a whole range of brand new recipes when looking to refresh your lunch offering, there’s no harm in keeping time tested classics on the menu. After all, menu items become favourites for a good reason, and it’s likely that when customers order certain meals they do so because they know exactly what they will be getting.
All that said, using tried and tested recipes as a base for creating new lunch options can be a safe way to introduce new offerings. By reworking components of recipes into something new, you can keep hold of the familiar character and flavour the original dish, whilst piquing interest with a new menu addition.
Giving an old favourite a refresh is something that Rose Khan, the winner of this year’s McCain One Pot Meal Competition, did to great effect. Rose won over the judges with her Chicken Bolognese and Potato Cakes, a deconstructed and easy to prep take on the classic Spaghetti Bolognese. The McCain Simply Dice potato cakes in the dish hold well and make a great alternative to pasta, whilst chicken provides a leaner protein packed replacement for the more traditional beef mince.
This template - chopping and changing carbohydrate and meat ingredients – can easily be applied to other favourite recipes with similarly great results. For example, instead of serving with rice, top chilli con carne with mash, or tikka masala with diced potato, then bake in the oven as a warming one pot meal.