It still amazes me when I see children expected to eat their lunch from horrible plastic prison style trays. We had a big argument about this in London Borough of Merton back in 2005/6.
Below is an article I wrote back then to persuade every school to change over. The kids comments are really interesting!If anyone is interested I have written a paper aimed at Headteachers/Govs to persuade them why they should make the change.Contact me if you want a copy.
Fears about replacing flight trays.
"I would not want to eat out of a prison tray. Would you? So why do we think it’s the right thing for children?"
Prue Leith, Chair of the School Food Trust
In 2006 the London Borough of Merton replaced flight trays with a simple plain black tray and white plates and bowls. Some schools had a number of concerns:
“But the children like flight trays”:
Undoubtedly some of the children were happy to eat from flight trays and did n’t see getting rid of them as a priority. They had become so common place in schools and we know that some children find change unsettling. However as schools the changes they began to report that most children preferred the replacement plates as it makes them feel less “babyish”. The vast majority of the children consulted by Merton Parents for Better food in Schools over this issue were happy to use plates with only a small minority preferring flight trays.
Here are some of the children’s comments:
I don't like the plastic trays at school because they look a bit grungy and dirty. I prefer to eat my dinner off a plate which has been cleaned properly and doesn't have knife cuts in it. They make you feel like you're in hospital and the food tastes of plastic. You wouldn't expect to eat off a tray in a cafe or restaurant so why would you at school.
Yr 6 Pupil
The trays were disgusting – there was often old bits of food on them as they weren’t washed properly and then our food was put on top of that. It was difficult to use your knife and fork in the little holes.”
Luke, aged 8
I would rather have a normal plate because the food gets all mushed up on the
trays - especially the main course - because there is not enough room. It
also makes me feel quite babyish.
Ceridwen, age 11
"Eating from the trays is like eating from dog bowls"
Harriet, aged 11
You can get more food onto a plate. You get bowls for pudding. It is more like at home.
Thomas, aged 9
“The plastic trays were grubby and dirty...the food looks much nicer on the china plates”
Lewis, age 8
“ I found it disturbing having your pudding next to your dinner. I prefer real plates.”
Ryan, year 5
I prefer real plates – its more hygienic and you feel more homey, (normal)
Sophia, year 5
“When we had trays I used to see people eating their pudding before their dinner.I prefer to use plates. I think other schools should use plates like you do at home.
Natasha, year 5
“The food looks nicer if you have it on a plate.”
Dom, aged 10
Plastic food trays are for babies.
James Richardson, year 8
“Our Children won’t manage.”
Some schools feared that children wouldn’t cope with carrying a plate. Initially children needed help and guidance from mid day supervisors in making the change over but most learnt how to manage quickly. Schools are used to teaching children new skills so this was no different. Interestingly many special schools outside the borough but attended by Merton pupils (including a residential visual impairment unit, Linden Lodge, and a specialist school for children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders). Forum School, Dorset ) use plates and bowls to create a civilised pleasant dining room. Some schools in Merton have taken the decision to allow the youngest children to use flight trays but others use plates through out the school
Here are some comments from mid day supervisors:
“Having supervised at school during lunchtime I have seen firsthand the huge improvement of the children’s table manners where they now have plates and bowls rather than those ridiculous trays. The children use their knives and forks correctly – the trays made this difficult so they inevitably used their fingers. Many children used to complain that some of their pudding was mixed in with their dinner.The whole dining experience has greatly improved.”
Mid day Supervisor and teaching assistant, Di Williams, Poplar Primary School
I ate the Christmas dinner and there is no way I would have done if the food had been served on one of those impersonalised plastic trays. I did have to witness and help to clear up many 'mixed dinners' on the flight/prison trays. The children were distressed when it happened and nothing similar has occurred since the change over to plates.
Mid day Supervisor and teaching assistant, Poplar Primary Emma Harper
A good reason for getting rid of prison style trays,
is the food can become mixed up when being served and this obviously is
Parent and former mid day supervisor, Sandra Beale
I was a mid-day supervisor for 8 years, over which time the dinnertime team were constantly appalled at the quality of the food served up and the way in which it was presented. The issue of the quality of the food has now been addressed so surely the logical next step in order to completed the transition to a civilised lunchtime experience for the children, which in some cases may be the only time they sit down at a table with other people to eat, must be the way the food is presented... on a plate!
Linda Ludlow, teaching assistant Poplar Primary School
“It creates extra washing up”
Yes it did. However many catering staff reported that it was much easier to clean plates and bowls than flight trays. Even staff who were nervous about making the change reported back that it did not lead to an increase in time. Staff found it easier to serve the food directly on to plates than filling up compartments on flight trays. It reduced the problem of puddings and main courses getting splashed over each other.
“The plates and bowls are easier to wash than the flight trays. They are also easier to serve the food on to.”
School Cook, Hatfeild Primary Celia Kelly
It is very encouraging to see the move back to plates and bowls to serve school lunches and I particularly welcome the return of white plates as it certainly displays food to its best advantage. Plates and bowls certainly bring a more homely atmosphere to lunchtimes
The flight trays may have been suitable at the time they were introduced but they have certainly outlived their usefulness.
ISS Caterhouse area manager, Merton , Roger Denton
Views from teaching staff
We made the switch from the “prison – style” trays mainly because it made the food look so unappetising. Having the main meal next to the dessert was unappealing. We have haven’t experienced any significant difficulties making the move to plates. The children took a little while to adjust to the new plates sliding on the trays that they are now using. The children prefer the plates and we have seen a big improvement in their table manners.
Deputy Head, Hatfeild Primary Stuart Atherton
I have seen an improvement in the way the children behave in the dinning hall since they have started using plates. As always we encourage children to be respectful to each other as well as to adults, but we equally need to show children respect in the way we treat them. This can be shown through the equipment that we give them to use!! If we give them plates we are giving a positive message that we value them and we value what they eat and that they are important to us.
Teacher, Poplar Primary School Wendy Ellis
Views from parents.
“Its not just about getting the food right – as important as that is – but children need to learn how to eat a meal properly, with a knife and fork, off a proper plate in a pleasant dining environment. Making them eat off these horrid plastic trays is giving a false impression of a real meal and making it more difficult for the children to enjoy their food and learn good habits for the future.
Parent Governor, Poplar Primary School, Paula Sutcliff
I am often appalled by the lack of table manners and basic skills in using cutlery. I believe that using the proper tools for a meal, i.e. a plate, knife, fork and spoon, is fundamental in teaching our children how to eat properly. I cannot bear to see children who appear to be completely lost it they need to actually cut something on their plate. Also, carrying a plate should not be difficult for children who are old enough to eat school meals.
Basically, I think that children eating at school should use the same utensils that they should be using at home.
Parent, Hatfeild Primary School, Dia Garrido
The trays reminded me of the plates used for toddlers - surely by primary school we want to encourage children to adopt more 'grown-up' eating habits. The trays give the impression of serving of 'rations' rather than a nutritious, appealing meal.
Parent, Julie Johns, Richards Secondary School
My personal feeling is that you give them a trough, they'll eat like pigs- , they will live down to our expectations, it's to do with convenience, a bit like factory farming. However if you treat them like they are worthy of effort, with proper plates, maybe even calming music, they they will live up to our expectations, enjoy their meals, feel valued, and hopefully in return, value the effort from those who have provided for them.
Parent, Wimbledon Park Primary, Ali Keen
Both my boys go to Wimbledon Park Primary School where they have already replaced the trays with plates and both boys think this is much better so you are preaching to the converted, however the key issue for me is food quality and I would rather the school caterer spent money on improving food quality than the implements however I do agree that separate plates are a much better option.
Parent from Wimbledon Park Primary,Anne Davies
And the last word goes to Stephen Black - the contracts manager
We have found that since the introduction of trays, plates and bowls in the schools it has improved the presentation of the food to the children, they can see their food clearly and it encourages them to try to eat properly using knives and forks and helps to develop a calmer dining experience.
It is necessary to engage headteachers as younger children need more supervision and assistance at the the servery and to their table, midday supervisors have some involvement as the there are more dishes to be stacked in trolleys in the hall and catering staff also need extra time as there is more washing to be done. However it is now recognised within our schools that it has been a positive improvement for both children and staff and on the general dining experience.
Contracts Manager London Borough of Merton, Steve Black