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Sodexo's quest to deinstitutionalise school dinners

Sponsored: Rosie Molinari BSc MSc RNutr (Public Health), Public Health Marketing Manager, Sodexo

Posted by Rob Bertels | May 08, 2018 | Catering & hospitality

Since joining Sodexo’s schools business in May 2017, Rosie Molinari BSc MSc RNutr (Public Health), our public health marketing manager, has been steering our new approach on school food. She brings a wealth of knowledge from years spent working in public health, specifically with local authorities and school caterers.

Working with our schools she has commissioned research looking at what pupils want to eat, how they like to eat it and in what kind of environment, as well as investigating barriers to school meal take up, particularly for those pupils entitled to a free school meal.

The result of this work is Food & Co. by Sodexo, our new school food brand, designed by pupils, for pupils. It brings together a new menu, branding, packaging and a new approach to the school dining environment and experience.

Rosie comments; “We know that food and the dining experience at school is incredibly important to pupils. Lunch times provide an important break in a busy day and pupils understandably feel frustrated when faced with bland food, long queues and an uninspiring, anti-social place to eat.

“The brief to our culinary development team was to de-institutionalise school meals – create food that was fun, tasty, easy to grab-and-go, and to make it quicker and easier to get through the dreaded queues.”

The menu is inspired by high street brands such as Nando’s and Wagamama’s, with a rotation based on types of food, or ‘Acts’, such as ‘Chicken’, ‘Italian’, ‘Mexican’ etc., with lots of healthy side dishes such as coleslaw and sweetcorn, and a selection of sauces to add customisable flavour.

The other important change is to the dining environment and the way the food is served.  We have designed Food & Co. to work almost as a food court. The counters serving the various ‘Acts’ are branded up and clearly signposted, so pupils can quickly see what is available. This will speed up serving time and reduce queuing and allow more time to relax and socialise with friends. All our main ‘Acts’ are available to buy in biodegradable takeaway boxes so pupils can get lunch and take it away to eat in the dining area, or outside with their friends.

“We found that convenience and speed of service is really important. Young people are used to the clear and simple digital menu screens in fast food restaurants and grab-and-go restaurants like Pret and Leon. They also wanted healthy food that can be consumed quickly, on the go, in order to maximise their free time.”

Finally, we are allowing pupils to own their dining environment through our Agents for Change programme which gives pupils a voice in helping to promote better health and wellbeing, and in making sure that the dining experience at their school is an inclusive and positive one. Pupils can choose the Food & Co. branding that works best for their school, customise it with school colours, mascots and slogans, and agree the messages about food, health and nutrition they feel will work best for them.

“We wanted to create an environment that was fun and bright, that would allow students to ‘own’ their space and relax away from the classroom.”

Rosie concludes; “The core objective for the new offer is to increase take-up of school meals, especially for those on free school meals. We know when pupils have ownership of their dining room environment and the foods served, they are more likely to make healthier choices. If we can get more pupils eating school meals, rather than opting for less healthy options, we should see improved health and learning outcomes, and the closing of the nutrition and attainment gap.”

We are immediately rolling out Food & Co. by Sodexo across our new contracts, and have a phased roll-out plan for our existing school portfolio. 


For more information on Schools by Sodexo please click here or email


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