How to make lunch for 20,000 children

·2 min read
Students will see a newly developed menu in September. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC - image credit)
Students will see a newly developed menu in September. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC - image credit)

P.E.I. School Food Program Inc. is wrapping up the complex work of creating a new menu for student lunches in the coming school year.

The Island's school food program is in its third year, offering lunches on a pay-what-you-can model. Originally run by the province, it is now operated by the non-profit P.E.I. School Food Program Inc.

Menu development for 2022-23 has made for a busy summer, said executive director Katelyn MacLean.

"Parents or guardians at home know that even their individual child eats differently. You can imagine trying to please 20,000 children in P.E.I.," said MacLean.

"It is always a challenge to make everybody happy, because everybody has different likes and dislikes."

The final menu has to appeal to both kids and parents. It has to provide variety, and the group also looks at specific questions: Do the students like apples? What are their favourite veggies on the side?

Working with Smartest Kitchen

The group receives feedback on food offerings throughout the year, examines sales of different items, and a survey went out to parents and students in June.

These are examined to create some overall concepts for the menu, and then three red seal chefs worked to turn those concepts into recipes.

Sarah MacMillan/CBC
Sarah MacMillan/CBC

"We've been really fortunate to be able to work with Canada's Smartest Kitchen, which is within the culinary institute, to take those concepts that our team has developed and turn them into recipes," said MacLean.

Earlier this week a group of parents,  students and school staff taste tested the recipes and provided further feedback.

Again this year the menu will take into account food allergies and preferences to some degree. There will be a vegetarian option every day, and both vegetarian and meat options will be available gluten friendly.

Given the volume of lunches being produced, however, no further customization will be available, said MacLean.

At the core of the menu creation is proper nutrition. Burgers remain a favourite, but P.E.I. School Food Program Inc. continues to work to present them in a healthy fashion.

With rising food costs, MacLean expects demand for the program will be up this year.

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