Providing a special lunch – or recess – for the school can be a great way for the P&C to add colour to the school calendar and raise some funds. Offering something different for lunch creates interest and excitement around the school. It is something everyone can look forward to: no lunch to make in the morning, no dry sandwiches, and enjoying a different meal with friends.
For those running canteens, special food days can be the difference between a financially viable canteen and one that is going under. Some P&Cs try to offer one every term.
Kate Rowntree, member of Council’s Canteen Subcommittee and manager at a P&C-run canteen for years points out that while they are definitely worth it, special food days are a lot of work. “There is no secret, super easy special lunch that other people are doing that makes a fortune for no work. Special lunches are hard work for everyone so plan well and work smarter not harder.”
Here are her top tips for running a special lunch for your school, even without many volunteers.
Advertise the day well ahead. Create colourful posters around the school so the kids know it's happening (and can nag at home!) and to create excitement. Planning ahead will also allow you to use Flexischools (or other online ordering) which will make the day much more streamlined.
If you are a larger school you may need to split special lunches, for example, do students in K-2 one week and Years 3-6 the next.
If you don’t have the volunteers to do lunch, go smaller scale with a recess special. It could be a hot cross bun and a chocolate milk, biscuits and a juice, or a muffin and an Up and Go. Try and find a drink or flavour that you don’t generally stock to make it special. If you make your food item the day or two before and buy in a drink you should be able to get it out at recess (and still do a regular lunch if you run the canteen). This can provide a good income with no extra helpers.
You may find it easier to get parent helpers if you shift from lunch time to something out of school hours when parents aren’t at work. You could try a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day breakfast, dinner prior to a disco, or Milo and a muffin before the Book Week costume parade.
It’s ok to buy in food. Of course you can pop all that popcorn yourself but if you need 300 portions and have no volunteers, then buy it in! Add it into the costing. If you plan ahead you can keep an eye out for specials at the supermarket.
Don’t cut across big canteen days
If your P&C already runs the canteen, don’t hold your special lunch on a Friday. Fridays are already busy and already make you money so do your special lunch on your quietest day to maximise the bonus money. Similarly, hold your special lunch as early in the term as possible because the end of term is already busier.
If you have a good relationship with your school, negotiate for year 5/6 students to help (packing and delivering baskets for example). Sometimes schools will allow staff to assist as well, especially if the day is linked to a school event, like harmony day.
Keep it cool
If your special food day includes a frozen element, put a stamp on the lunch order bag (something big, bright and the same for everyone). The student eats their main lunch and snack and then brings the empty bag to collect their frozen treat or drink. You can just stand outside the canteen exchanging bags for frozen treats.
What to serve
The idea is to provide something different and interesting that kids want to eat and parents want to order. For many people involved in canteens, special food days are known as ‘red food days’ in reference to the Schools Food and Drink Policy which allows less healthy food (classified as ‘red’) to be served a maximum of twice per term. But special food days needn't be ‘red’. Below are some Green and Amber suggestions for a fun food day that doubles as a fundraiser. The ACT Nutrition Support Service have many great recipes to inspire, including those linked below.
Fried Rice (GREEN without ham). Can be pre-made and frozen. Allergy friendly and vegetarian.
Pasta (GREEN or AMBER). There are multiple options and sauces can be pre-made and frozen. Also easy for vegetarian.
Mini Pizzas (GREEN or AMBER depending on toppings). You can make bases yourself and freeze or buy them in (the premade ones for Aldi, Coles and Woolies assess as green). A gluten free muffin cut in half works well for a GF option.
Sushi (GREEN or AMBER). Buy it in! Easy for vegetarian and allergies.
Burgers (GREEN). Pre-make patties and freeze. Cook them on a flat top BBQ and set up a production line of buns etc. Keep it really simple: burger and sauce or burger, cheese and sauce.
Kate tells us: “At Mt Rogers Primary our McMtRogers Day was really popular even though we already had a burger on our menu. We made our own patties and added carrot and zucchini to them. We ran it with three paid staff, the BSO on the BBQ and two year 6 students delivering baskets for 350 orders.”
Bolognaise / Meatball Subs (GREEN). Take a hot dog bun and fill with bolognaise, cheese on top, wrapped then into the warmers/oven to melt and crisp. You can make meat sauce in advance and use slow cookers and stove top on the day to heat large quantities.
Soft Tacos / Burrito (GREEN) Popular with lettuce, corn, cheese and bolognaise sauce or a chicken version pre-made. You can roll and wrap them or make a boat out of the soft tortilla and put it in a clamshell container. Use slow cookers and stove top to heat large amounts of sauce.
Mini Pie or Mini Quiches (AMBER or GREEN). There is something about mini pies that kids love! Even when pies are on the menu if you do ‘mini pies’ it’s guaranteed sales! This one does use lots of warmer/oven space.
Butter Chicken (GREEN or AMBER). Cook from scratch and freeze or buy ready made sauce (need to have these assessed). Universally popular, even in primary schools.
Extras, or for recess
Chocolate mousse (AMBER). Made with light milk this assesses as amber. Powdered mix from the wholesaler is super easy to make, just whip in a stand mixer. This is a super useful product as it keeps for a week, it’s Gluten free and you can brighten it up by adding berries.
Jelly cups (AMBER if made with fruit juice and gelatine). You can add fruit. Keeps well.
Pikelets (GREEN). These are best made on the day but can definitely still pass made the day before. Adding Milo to the mix changes them up a bit.
Biscuits (AMBER) Mixture can be made in advance and frozen in rolls, then slice and cook the day (or two) before
Popcorn (GREEN if air popped). Pop it yourself or buy in.
Cupcake / Muffin (AMBER). Make these in advance and freeze then cook the day before.
Apple slinky (GREEN) Lots of fun but very laborious.
Ice Blocks. Many are amber including Paddle Pops and Frozen Yogurt Twists.
Fruit juice in a pouch and frozen is really popular.
This article appeared in ParentACTion Magazine, Term 3, 2022.