Chef taking a photo of a meal

Spice up your school meals: tips to increase school dinner uptake

Increase school dinner uptake with our top tips for generating excitement around your school catering offer.

There are many benefits to pupils having school dinners. It ensures children have at least one balanced, healthy, hot meal each day. Plus, it helps to properly fuel their bodies and minds throughout their lessons. Improving the popularity of school dinners benefits both schools and caterers. The more pupils opt in, the better the economies of scale become.

Read on to learn some strategies you can use to help increase school dinner uptake.

Refresh your menu with seasonal flavours

There are many benefits to buying seasonal, local produce. Of course, it’s more sustainable and helps to strengthen local supply chains. Moreover, regularly refreshing your menu with new dishes inspires more interest in the meals on offer. Subsequently, it is likely to increase school dinner uptake.

This handy list from the Vegetarian Society makes it easy to see the seasonality of British fruit and veg. School caterers can also benefit from discussing this with local suppliers. It can save on food costs to purchase seasonal crops too.

Devising a whole new menu four times a year may seem overambitious for busy catering teams, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Simply iterate on old favourites with seasonal variations to add interest to your menu without adding extra work. Swap squash for bell peppers, substitute apples with berries, and use any in-season root veg for an alternative mash – perfect for topping a seasonal cottage pie. The options are endless!

Have fun experimenting with menus and students are sure to be interested in what the kitchen is serving up. In turn, parents will be encouraged to choose a school dinner for their child throughout the year.

A picture paints a thousand words

We all know that the tantalising food photography in cookbooks and glossy ads can be enough to get tummies rumbling. Tucasi’s Dinner Money module for online meal ordering and payments allows caterers and schools to upload images for each meal option or share a full menu. This lets parents and children see pictures of the meals on offer within the parent facing SCOPAY app or website, encouraging them to order meals with a few quick clicks.

You might not have a professional photographer on your staff, but now that we all carry good quality cameras in our pockets, it’s easier than ever to get great pictures that will sell your school meals to pupils and their parents. Follow these simple guidelines to create mouth-watering culinary photos:

  • Get photo-ready: Arrange each dish on the plate in the way that shows it off best. Centre the food and leave some space around the edge of the plate for a nice clean contrast. Make sure you can see some of each element in the dish, and that all the colours in the meal are visible – there’s nothing more appetising than a rainbow on a plate!
  • Experiment with framing: There’s no need to snap every meal from the same angle. Think about how each plate looks most appealing. A side-on view will show off the layers in a lasagna, meanwhile, pizza looks most interesting from above. If you’re unsure, try a few different angles to see what looks best.
  • Good lighting works wonders: Just like ourselves, food looks best when properly lit, so find good lighting – the kitchen or dining room may not be your best option. Natural lighting is best, for example by a window. If that isn’t possible, try to use a space with softer, warm artificial lighting, but watch out for dark shadows which could unbalance your photo.
  • Consider the background and props: Don’t assume that one set-up will work equally well for every dish. Consider the colours and composition of each meal and choose a complimentary background, including the surface or tablecloth, plate, cutlery, drinking glasses, etc. A busy, colourful meal benefits from a white plate and plainer backdrop, while you can add interest to a visually simple dish by using more eye-catching elements. It’s recommended to avoid red plates in general, as the colour reflects into the food.
  • Add some life to your shot: Help your photos stand out with some extra touches. A sprinkle of fresh herbs or a splash of dressing can make a meal all the more inviting. Spritz a little water over raw fruit & veg to accentuate how fresh and juicy they are. And work fast to capture appetising moments, like cheese melting or gravy pouring over a roast. This also reminds parents of the unique benefits of a hot school dinner.

Make a meal of special menus

Most school kitchens offer a Christmas lunch in the run up to the holidays, but there are many more opportunities for culinary exploration throughout the year. You can increase school dinner uptake by offering more frequent special menus. There are many events across the calendar which can be celebrated with special meals, including Harvest Festival, Halloween, Diwali, Christmas, Hanukkah, Lunar New Year, Shrove Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Eid, and all the patron saints’ days.

Special occasions give caterers a chance to be more creative with photography too. In addition to our previous tips, why not experiment with props when snapping your special menu? For example, you could use pumpkins at Halloween, baubles at Christmas, mandarin oranges or red envelopes at Lunar new year – just have fun and see what you can come up with!

Tucasi’s Dinner Money module, with integrated online ordering and payments, makes it easy to create and publish one-off special menus.

A roast dinner on a table with Christmas decorations

Schools can even use the flexible Online Payments module to take payments for parents’ or other visitors’ meals. Offering a taste of what’s on offer, with a special parent’s lunch at the start of term provides an opportunity to showcase the benefits of a daily school dinner for their children. Plus, it can help to get parents engaged in wider conversations around school food, nutrition and health.

Increase school dinner uptake with easy ordering & payments

Busy parents may be dissuaded from signing up for school dinners if it seems to be too much hassle. Having to fill out forms, keep on top of their balance and come into the school office to pay may create a barrier that prevents some families from opting for school meals. 

This is where Tucasi steps in. Our SCOPAY system helps to increase school dinner uptake by making the process easier for parents. Parents use the website or FREE mobile app to top up their child’s dinner balance and order meals quickly and easily. They can save payment cards, use GooglePay or ApplePay; and schools can opt to switch on PayPoint too.

Talk to us today about how we can help your company or school to increase school dinner uptake. Call 02380 016 563 or email

See how user-friendly our software is to manage your payments and admin efficiently.

One of our product experts will show you the system and our parent facing app in a live demonstration and answer any questions you may have.

There’s no obligation and you can ask us anything.

For parents: see link

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.