For parents, it can be a struggle to encourage children to eat vegetables, let alone encourage them to try completely new flavours and dishes. For school caterers however, they have more of a winning chance to encourage children to try new foods – especially if the whole school is involved.
Compared to when they are at home, children can feel more confident to try new flavours and ingredients, especially if they are taking part in a taster session with their friends. At home, when choosing a dish off the menu from the local Chinese takeaway, children might be more inclined to choose dishes that they know and like, such as egg fried rice, chips, spring rolls, prawn crackers, plain noodles (without onions) and prawn crackers. However, if they have a wide choice of dishes to choose from at school, they might be more inclined to go for something more adventurous with different vegetables and sauces.
Holding world food days or celebrating special occasions in the school dining hall is one way that school caterers could introduce new and exciting dishes to the menu. Chinese New Year, for example, is the perfect opportunity for school caterers to add some authentic Asian dishes and encourage children to try some new flavours and foods.
“School caterers could look to experiment with tapas style options if they really want make Chinese New Year a memorable and delicious occasion,” suggests Alison Smith, global product developer for Mars Food. “From sticky rice balls and spring rolls, through to sweet and sour skewers and steamed dumplings, students will love being able to pick and choose, as well as mix and match which foods they try at lunchtime.”
Dumplings are one of the perfect options for school caterers looking to encourage children to try authentic recipes. Being so versatile, this traditional Chinese delicacy is simple to introduce with numerous options to suit all taste types.
“By being varied in available fillings, including pork, shrimp, chicken, beef and vegetables, there’s a type of dumpling for every diner, with each type being just as succulent,” explains Mike Hardman, marketing manager at Alliance Online says. “The variety even doubles through the different ways to cook dumplings. Boiling, steaming or frying, each method produces dumplings that taste like entirely separate dishes, making you want to sample each until you’re full.”
When creating a school menu for Chinese New Year, there are numerous ways that caterers can create dishes for pupils of all ages. Even if budgets are tight, there are clever ways that schools can get on board with the celebrations and help expand pupils’ food choices. Noodle dishes, for example, are a favourite dish and a good place to start.
“Being a blank slate for your own personal touches, noodles serve as an excellent base for Chinese favourites like lo mein or chow mein, allowing caterers to customise combinations of meat and/or vegetables to the nutritional goals of their menus,” Hardman adds.
Other popular choices of Chinese food are sweet and sour options, which tend to be more appealing to younger pupils who may not like the heat from curry dishes. Many sweet and sour dishes are also usually packed with different fruits and vegetables, which as Hardman points out, can help children reach their five-a-day intake.
Stir fry dishes are another way to encourage pupils to try new foods and flavours and can be a great way to introduce students to Chinese dishes. Like dumplings, stir fry recipes can be extremely versatile and can be tailored to include both meat and vegetables; they can even be paired with different authentic-flavoured sauces. Chinese cuisine also includes a range of dishes which allow caterers to add in fish ingredients, helping them include some appealing menu choices that have essential omega 3 nutrients.
“Fish-based dishes are not only traditional at any Chinese New Year celebration, but they are packed full of brain-powering nutrients and add more variety to the menu whilst offering a flavoursome and nutritious meal that encourages students to try a new dish,” explains Maria Chong, managing director at Lee Kum Kee Europe. “Chinese dishes are also a great way to add a myriad of flavours to any vegetarian meal. An authentic Chinese favourite is soy sauce, which perfectly complements the fresh and natural flavours of vegetables.”
With so many exciting flavours to choose from, Asian cuisine can provide school caterers with a huge source of inspiration. Although some caterers could find the prospect of creating a whole new Asian-inspired menu daunting, thankfully there are some easy remedies they can incorporate, such as school compliant ready-made sauces available.
“Ready-made oriental sauces allow caterers to create exciting, eastern-inspired dishes without having to undergo the time-consuming process of making the sauces from scratch,” Smith says. “What’s more, to ensure that these dishes are also versatile in terms of fulfilling a variety of dietary demands and school guidelines, our sauces are compliant with 2017 PHE salt targets and are suitable for gluten free diets and vegetarians.”
With this varied choice on offer and an array of different menu ideas, hopefully school caterers can be inspired to cook up something new and exciting and encourage children to try some new flavours and foods.